Joanna’s Birth Story.
On the blog I’ve talked for years now about how we’re taught to fear feeding our body and fear our body changing size. In my recovery process from an eating disorder I figured out that we don’t have to micromanage our body size and control our food in some rigid way because our cravings / hunger & fullness cues will guide us to what and how much food our bodies want to eat and as a side effect our body will find the weight it’s meant to be without you micromanaging it.
Since I realized every mainstream message I got about feeding my body and controlling my body size was wrong, that got me thinking…what else are we taught to fear that we don’t need to? From movies that show women in agony as they birth a child to jokes about, “you realize you’re trying to fit a watermelon out of a tennis ball sized hole, right?”…I think we are taught to fear giving birth. Throughout pregnancy I thought a lot about should giving birth be something I fear…or is this just another thing we’re programmed to be scared of.
Why I wanted to give birth like I did
I wanted to be able to experience myself giving birth and pushing Joanna out, so for me that meant trying to have an epidural free birth with as little medical intervention as possible. It’s just an experience I wanted. Some people want to go to Bali and some people want to be able to feel themselves giving birth. I’m not big into travel, so I’d lump myself in the latter group :)
A lot of people recommended not making a birth plan because you can’t predict how labor will go and you don’t want to get your heart set on giving birth ‘x’ way and then be disappointed when things don’t go as expected. While I didn’t have a rigid birth plan, I’m glad I prepared for birth in the way I did because the birth went exactly how I hoped it would. I didn’t ever write out a birth plan…I just knew I wanted as little medical interventions as possible and I wanted to spend the pregnancy preparing as much as I could to have that experience. I feel really lucky and, since I think all good things come from God, I thank God that I got to experience birth in the way I wanted to because I know some people don’t get to have that experience.
The main reason I chose to give birth without an epidural was because I didn’t want to be numb. High school and college sucked for me. I missed out on being fully present and enjoying so many experiences because I was so obsessed with my body size and my food…I was numb to so much because all my brain space was being taken up by thoughts of getting perfect grades, having the “perfect” body and eating in a “clean” way. Since I feel like there’s a lot I missed out on…nowadays I’m not willing to miss out on any experiences.
When I found out we were pregnant, I reached out to my friend, Stephanie, who had talked about having really incredible and life changing birth experiences. I met with her when I was around 20wks pregnant and shared how I felt like I spent a lot of my life numb and didn’t want to miss out on this experience. A week before Joanna was born I was starting to get extremely nervous about birth, so I met with Stephanie and cried and she gave me a pep talk and just reflected my value of not wanting to be numb to me in a non-judgemental, even-if-you-get-an-epidural-or-c-section-this-will-still-be-one-of-the-best-days-of-your-life way.
Wednesday, Nov 8th
I woke up around 8am. Went for a longer walk than I’d gone on in the entire pregnancy while listening to a playlist filled with songs that make me feel super emotional (i.e. some Usher, some Eminem, some MercyMe, some David Crowder). For the first time I had thoughts of, “I wonder if this will be my last walk alone before baby comes.”
My dad picked me up around lunchtime and took me out to eat some BBQ together (my dad says it was the BBQ sauce that put me into labor lol, but I don’t think that’s a thing). Then I just hung out at home and watched Gilmore Girls/did laundry/watercolored the Chutes & Ladders art for Watercolor Wednesday.
Andrew and I sat down to have dinner and I had one slightly intense contractions, but didn’t think anything of it. At this point in pregnancy I’d been having “false” labor pretty much every other day where I’d have a contraction every 10-30 minutes for 1-2 hour stretches and then they’d just STOP.
Right at 8pm I had a contraction. Again, I didn’t think anything of it because all the “false” labor was emotionally draining, so I didn’t want to get my hopes up that this was it. Then I had another contraction at 8:05pm, then at 8:10pm, 8:15pm, 8:20pm. I didn’t say anything to Andrew, but I went and sat on the toilet. My plan for early labor (and all of labor) was to get out of the way of my body (by relaxing as much as possible) and letting my body open up. I wanted to relax so much that if I had to pee I would. The only time I’m relaxed so much that I would pee myself is when I’m on the toilet so I figured that’d be a good place to labor. After 3 contractions on the toilet I yelled at Andrew that I think this is it.
I put in a pad so I didn’t have to worry if I relaxed so much and peed myself and went and laid down on the floor in the nursery. I got into child’s pose and Maggie came over and had no trouble relaxing with me. Contractions definitely intensified if I was in child’s pose, I figured if I was in a pose where the contractions started to get more intense that meant we were making progress with opening up my cervix and that was a good thing. At this point I was using Ujjayi breathing from yoga to keep myself calm.
Decided I wanted to get in the shower. I would say one of my favorite things in life if taking hot, hot showers and it felt so good to have water hitting my back as I leaned over and worked through contractions.
Contractions felt like bad period cramps paired with the giant bag of muscle that held baby (aka my uterus) squeezing SO tight that it would take my breath away. I could still talk through the contractions at this point. I was PUMPED that this was finally it. November 9th is a special day for our family and I was realizing at this point that baby girl was going to come on the 9th and it just felt so right and comforting because I believe God had planned this for us and was holding us.
Went back into the nursery to lay down. Time was going by SO fast.
Andrew had been updating our Doula, Shelley and she arrived to our house. I ate half a piece of cinnamon swirl toast with cookie butter on it and drank a gatorade.
We turned all the lights out in our living room and I laid on the couch with the peanut ball between my legs. Shelley set up a diffuser with peppermint essential oils and she timed my contractions. At this point they were about 3-5 minutes apart. I drifted off to sleep between contractions, which was exactly what I was hoping I’d be able to do in early labor. Andrew went to lay down in bed to see if he could get some sleep. Andrew doesn’t function without sleep (like, can’t function at all) and since some first births can be 12+ hours we were both hoping he’d be able to get in a little rest.
Thursday, Nov 9th
Got in the shower again. Shelley timed my contractions and they were 3-4 minutes apart. Andrew was up at this point. I started shaking uncontrollably, which is normal in labor, and then I threw up for the first time.
Contractions were 2-3 minutes apart. My water had yet to break. We decided it was time to head to the hospital. I still felt very present at this time. Contractions were really uncomfortable at this point but I could still function. Before we got in the car I let Maggie out in the backyard to go to the bathroom. Contractions continued every 2-3 minutes on the way to the hospital and I gave myself a pep talk out loud to Andrew saying if this was an experience I wanted I COULD DO THIS! I could birth this baby with as little medical intervention as possible. This was one day and I didn’t want to miss this experience. I had a very, “LET’S DO THIS!” attitude as we got out of the car and walked into the hospital…stopping along the way to let me work through contractions.
Got to the L&D floor at the hospital and were meet by the triage nurse from hell. The only negative part of Joanna’s birth was this triage nurse. She told me Andrew couldn’t go back with me as I got checked to see how dilated I was. Then she started asking me questions about family medical history. Like, “do you have any diabetes or heart disease in your family?” I was pissed at this point. I asked her why she was asking me since I had preregistered at the hospital and had answered that question already on my paperwork. She asked me again and I told her she’d have to go get my husband if she wanted an answer. At this point contractions were 1:30 minutes apart and I was starting to feel pretty out of it. This was the only time in labor I felt like I didn’t have time to relax and prepare myself for the next contraction in between contractions. I was getting nervous about being able to get this baby out of me and her separating me from Andrew wasn’t okay. I’ll be asking my OB about this whole situation at my follow-up appt, because if it’s required to separate husband and wives when in active labor I will never be delivering at that hospital again. Talk about ripping my support system away from me.
I think they separated Andrew and me because there was no one at the registration desk when we walked in (there was no one anywhere…this was super annoying) and Andrew had to wait to get a FREAKING wrist band. Once he got the wrist band Andrew said the front desk lady was super casual and said, “you can go back now.” We were probably only separated for about 6 minutes, but not having Andrew and Shelley with me had me starting to feel panicky.
The triage nurse asked me to put on the hospital gown, but I was pretty over everything and just laid on the bed naked and tried to focus on relaxing/visualizing my cervix opening up and, honestly, tuning her out. The triage nurse checked me and I was dilated to 6cm with a bulging bag of water. Andrew walked in and I told him we were at 6cm and he was pumped…just the encouragement I needed! I walked to a L&D room. I kept having to stop as we were walking to work through contractions and the triage nurse had no sympathy/compassionate words to offer. I remember looking at her and she just looked annoyed and tired.
I walked to the labor and delivery room and was greeted by my next nurse. I believe her name was Trish and she was awesome and supportive and I couldn’t have asked for a better nurse to help bring Joanna into the world. Her and my Doula had worked together before on a couple births and Trish was really supportive with allowing Shelley to set up the essential oils diffuser and with just having a Doula in the room in general.
They put in my IV and started antibiotics because I was GBS positive.
I felt like I had to pee, so I tried to. But then ended up throwing up again instead. I knew throwing up and shaking uncontrollably were good signs that me and Jojo were in active labor and everything was moving along just as it should.
I got in the bed and contractions were consistently coming, but I have no idea how often…probably every minute to every minute and a half. I still wouldn’t describe the contractions as painful. At this point I felt like I was in a different world. I really describe the sensation of the contractions as debilitating discomfort. It was just so much intensity that I think my brain couldn’t register that sensation as “pain” because it was like nothing I’d ever experienced before. And I have trouble calling it pain because I associate physical pain with something bad, but this sensation was an experience I signed up for and this “pain” was a positive productive thing because it meant I was going to meet our daughter soon.
Once I laid down in the bed I shut my eyes and really didn’t open them again until Joanna was out. I wanted all senses focused on pushing her out and not looking around the room. From 4am to when she was born, Andrew said there were 3 times I said, “I don’t know how to do this” / “I don’t know how to get her out” / “I can’t do this”. At one point I remember crying and vigorously shaking the handle of the bed. During this last hour of labor, before I felt the urge to push, in my head I was thinking, “we’re gonna have to do a C-section,” because I felt like no one could tell me if we were making progress and baby was moving down and out like she was supposed to. This is the typical “i can’t do this” stage they talk about in The Bradley Method Book.
During this time there were two things that helped:
1. Andrew was feeding me one ice chip at a time between contractions and I’d AGGRESSIVELY chew it mouth open with a clashing jaw and then get mentally prepared for the next contraction.
2. Shelley put peppermint essential oils on a towel and fanned me with it constantly
Dilated to 8cm.
Andrew texted my mom saying 10cm!
I started feeling the urge to push.
No sign of the doctor, but there was a resident in the room and she went ahead and broke my water. I remember opening my eyes as the resident was breaking my water and thinking, “she has a really kind face, I’m glad she’s here.” Lol…I think I was just happy someone was breaking my water. I felt a gush and then really started feeling the urge to push. I was told to not push because the OB wasn’t there yet, but pushing felt great and it was difficult to not push. It felt wonderful and natural and right to push with the contractions. At some point the OB showed up and said I wasn’t ready to push because there was part of the lip of my cervix still in the way. So I tried to focus on just gently pushing against the contractions instead of pushing to push baby out. 10 minutes later OB came back in and it was go time. Trish (my fav nurse) would tell me to push and count me down 10-9-8-7…and then I’d take a big breath and we’d go again 10-9-8-7…I still felt the urge to push even after they’d stop counting sometimes so I’d keep pushing and they’d encourage me to listen to my body.
I pushed for 30ish minutes and could feel when Joanna’s head was coming out. I did start to tear as Joanna shoulders tried to come out so the OB gave me a shot of lidocaine. I didn’t feel the “ring of fire” a lot of women describe when they give birth, I’m sure because of the lidocaine, but I could still feel her coming out. I was present enough and waiting to feel the ring of fire and when I didn’t I knew the OB had given me something. They placed Joanna on my chest and she immediately started rooting around for my boob.
From birth stories I’ve heard, I think I had a very easy first labor. It was 10 hours from start to finish and I ended up with a 2 degree tear. I’m really happy with how the birth went and happy this was the first experience me and Joanna had together. If I’m lucky enough to have another baby, I’d definitely go this route again.
Our resources (I skimmed both of the books and just read the parts that seemed interesting to me)
- The Bradley Method Book (affiliate link)
- Supernatural Childbirth (affiliate link)
- The Birth Hour podcast (this was a huge resource in helping me not fear giving birth and believing in my body’s ability to birth Jojo)
- This Eminem song (lol). You may find this cheesy, but I listened to this song every day the week before Joanna was born to remind myself that “If you had one shot or one opportunity to seize everything you ever wanted in one moment would you capture or just let it slip?” It helped remind me that Joanna’s birth was only going to be one day and I didn’t want to let it slip away without fully experiencing it. What if I can’t get pregnant again? This could be a once in a lifetime opportunity that I didn’t want to miss.
- Taking 30 seconds a day to visualize my cervix opening up, Joanna moving down, and me pulling her out. I closed my eyes and visualized this happening starting at about 7 months pregnant and did it daily until she was born. I did ask the awesome nurse Trish if they ever allowed women to pull out there own baby and she said she had seen it done and we could ask the OB, but I was exhausted when pushing and didn’t want to think about having to pull Jojo out. If I get pregnant again, perhaps this is something I’d want to consider for that birth.
- Prenatal chiropractor. My OB referred me to a chriopractor when my back pain flared up around 20 weeks. I went for adjustments and prenatal massages every 3 weeks from 20 weeks to the end of pregnancy.
- One of the top 3 things that helped me experience labor without an epidural was my past practice of yoga. Because of my knee and back pain I did pretty much zero yoga during pregnancy, but 3 years of practicing yoga pre-pregnancy had really taught me to tolerate discomfort and when I’m experiencing discomfort to focus on my breath. During early labor Ujjayi breathing was super helpful for me.
- Positive affirmations. Being self aware and knowing what works for you is key with anything in life…positive affirmations concerning body size and eating had been helpful for me in the past, so I found some pregnancy/birth related affirmations and repeated them throughout the pregnancy. Here are the ones that resonated with me most: 1) The labor is 9 months waiting to meet Joanna…the birth will be easy, 2) I grew this baby, I will push her out, 3) I’m so excited to get to do this with you, Jojo.
And that’s Jojo’s birth story!
A note to my readers who want to be moms but are struggling to have a baby. I’d never want to be the sting of the reminder that you haven’t had success having a baby. I pray so badly that you’ll get to have a baby. What I’ve gotten to experience with baby girl in the last week has been incredible and I pray you’ll get to have a baby of your own. I have 3 close friends/family members who are struggling with infertility now and it breaks my heart for them now more than ever. Love to you<3