I'm excited to share her birth story because it's a really happy one. Not just because of Stella - although she's obviously the best part! - but because it went better than I ever could have hoped. Every time I think back to that day, I'm filled with joy and gratitude. It was one of the best experiences of my whole life.
It was also incredibly painful - but I'll get to that later!
To Epidural or Not to Epidural
I didn't have a birth plan for Stella. My number one priority was a healthy delivery. But if I'm completely honest, I *really* hoped for a natural childbirth.
It's not that I'm against epidurals - I had one when Luna was born! But so many things went wrong. Afterwerwards, I felt a lot of guilt about my decision to accept the epidural. It felt like I had risked my baby’s life for my own benefit. Maybe that was the wrong way to think about it. Epidurals help so many people! And I’m not judging anyone for accepting one. But at the end of the day there are risks and I spent a lot of time worrying that something would go wrong again.
On the other hand, it’s scary to think about giving birth without meds! Which is why I didn't really have a plan. All I could do was labor at home as long as possible and deal with the epidural dilemma once I got to the hospital.
The Final Weeks
Throughout my pregnancy, I was *sure* I'd go into labor early. All the signs were there! And Stella was measuring small which put me at risk for preterm delivery. But as my due date approached, I started getting anxious. Nothing was happening! And all the signs that had been there were suddenly gone.
At my last appointment, my doctor only confirmed my fears. Even though I was 3 centimeters dilated and almost completely effaced, I hadn't progressed at all in over two weeks. For the first time, he mentioned the possibility of an induction.
So many things were running through my mind as I left the office that day. I didn’t want to be induced. I knew it would increase the chances that I would need an epidural and again … I was just scared! But also …. I would do anything for our sweet babe. If the doctor said we needed to go through with it, that’s what I would do.
As it turned out, I didn't need to worry so much. I went into labor that very night …
It was just before midnight on my due date.
Labor always starts the same for me. I'm barely feeling anything and then I'm suddenly having contractions every 2 minutes. Looking back, I probably should have gone to the hospital a little sooner than I did. But even in those final hours, I still wasn't sure what to do about the epidural.
So we waited.
For almost six hours, I breathed and visualized my way through contractions. I honestly had no idea what I was doing! During that time, Kris rubbed my back, talked me through the pain, and physically held me up at times. He brought me ice water when I needed it and gently wiped the sweat from my forehead. He was the best labor partner I could have asked for.
Except for one little thing, haha!
In the very beginning, he kept asking if we should go to the hospital. And I honestly just wasn’t ready. I knew the second I arrived, I'd probably cave and get the epidural so I wanted to stay home as long as possible. After the third time he mentioned the hospital, I got a little snappy with him.
He took the hint and didn't mention it again :)
Heading to the Hospital
It was 6:00 a.m. By that point, I was laboring in the bath tub and my whole body was shaking. My mom had arrived to watch Luna and contractions were becoming unbearable. Kris tentatively mentioned the hospital one last time.
I was still worried about the epidural. But I also knew he was right.
It was time to go.
I kissed Luna on the head just before we left.
Can I hit pause for a second? I just mentioned that my mom watched Luna while we headed to the hospital. But what I didn't mention was the fact that she drove over 3 hours in the middle of the night to be there. I'm so grateful for her part in my birth experience. It meant I didn't need to worry about Luna while I was giving birth. I knew she'd be happy and healthy and taken care of. Plus it was just really nice having my mom close by ;)
At the hospital, they offered me a wheelchair but I turned it down. It sounds crazy but I felt the same way for both of my deliveries - if I couldn’t walk into the hospital on my own, how could I ever push a baby out? So that’s what I did - I walked to Labor & Delivery, pausing every few seconds for another contraction to pass.
The door to L& D stays locked but there’s no nurse at the window. Instead, they use a security camera + intercom. Kris hit the button and told them why we were there just as I knelt down to have a contraction. The nurse was confused - she kept saying he wasn’t on the list. She thought his wife was already inside when really I was just out of view on the camera! It took a minute but someone finally came out to help him and that’s when they realized what was going on.
They led me into a small room and handed me a clipboard. But halfway through the first form another contraction hit. I crouched down to the floor. When I’m in pain, I try not to overreact. But also, I was in A LOT of pain by that point and the nurse could tell. “Let's get you to triage," she said. I felt so bad - I hadn't finished a single form!
As we headed down the hallway, I joked between contractions about my low pain tolerance. "I'm probably only 4 centimeters dilated," I told the nurses. I didn't tell them how scared I was that it might actually be true.
If you've ever given birth, you probably know all about triage. It's the room where they check to see how far your labor has progressed. If you're ready to be admitted, they take you to a delivery room! If not, they send you home.
My triage room was teeny tiny. I could have stretched my arms out and (almost) touched both walls at the same time!
It's crazy how fast things progressed. When we arrived, my contractions were already super painful. Still, I could walk and talk and function somewhat normally between them. But then there was no "between" anymore. It was just one contraction after another after another.
There was a bathroom right next to my triage room - they sent us in so I could change into my gown before they checked me. I tried to pee but I was in so much pain by that point. I was shaking so hard I couldn’t stand anymore.
The nurse was banging on the door for us to come out. They half-carried me back to the room and I remember being crouched next to the bed. I was terrified I was going to deliver our baby on the hospital floor. And yet, the rational part of my brain still thought … there’s NO way I’m that close.
Kris lifted me onto the bed and the nurse strapped monitors around my belly. She tried checking my cervix but I could. not. sit. still! I was in SO much pain. I needed to sit up, to move, to do anything to get rid of it.
Everything started collapsing around me. I couldn't think anymore. I knew I didn't want an epidural but I couldn't remember why. I didn't know it at the time but I'd just entered the Transition Phase of labor.
At that point, I really lost sight of things. I suddenly knew with absolute certainty that I couldn't go through with a natural birth. So less than 20minutes after arriving at the hospital, I caved. I asked for the one thing I didn't want: an epidural.
And guess what? It was TOO LATE!!
My first reaction was disbelief ... Was I really that far along?!
And then relief ... No epidural!! No catheters or complications or crashing baby's heartbeats. No guilt or stress over the decision. Everything was going to be okay …
and then the fear hit.
People talk a lot about the pain of natural childbirth. And it's true that it's incredibly painful - I've never felt anything like it. But it's also really scary! You're about to push a BABY out of your body. And there's not a thing you can do to stop it.
I felt completely unprepared. I hadn't taken any classes, hadn't hired a doula, hadn't done anything useful leading up to my labor other than a few prenatal yoga videos. But it didn't matter! I was about to give birth without an epidural whether I was ready or not.
It's amazing how clearly I remember all these details because by that point I was literally screaming for someone - anyone - to help me. And then I completely lost it. I couldn't even manage words anymore. I was just screaming. My hair was matted to my skin with sweat. My body was being ripped open from the inside. I remember wildly trying to launch myself off the end of the bed - anything to escape the pain - and being physically restrained.
There were nurses everywhere - at least three in the tiny room and four or five standing just outside. The triage room didn't have a door - just a meager little curtain that was wide open - so I didn't have much privacy. But there wasn't time to move to a delivery room.
The doctor rushed in. That's when things started moving in fast forward. He didn't hesitate. There was a little pop and a gush as he broke my water. Then he was looking me straight in the face. "I need one push," he said. "One big push and she'll be here."
So I pushed!
I've never felt more alive than in that moment. It was the first and only time I've ever felt really connected to what it means to be a human being. To experience something so raw and unfiltered without any barriers. I didn't just experience the exact moment Stella made her way into the world. I felt it. And it's something I'll never forget.
And just like that the pain was gone.
There is nothing like seeing your newborn baby for the very first time. I don't need pictures or videos to remember those moments. I'll forever remember seeing Luna for the first time and the same is true for Stella.
She was messy and swollen and absolutely perfect.
The nurses were waiting for me to take her. I remember feeling a little wide-eyed about that. When Luna was born, she was rushed off to NICU immediately. I didn't get to hold or touch her until she was already wiped clean and tightly swaddled. But with Stella, I was allowed to hold her right away. They laid her on my chest while Kris cut the cord and the doctor cleaned me up.
I closed my eyes and leaned my head back.
And I thought:
I can't believe I'm holding our little girl. I can't believe I just gave birth without medication. I can't believe how different it was from my first experience. And I can't believe it's all over!
The doctor smiled. "That was the best delivery you could ask for," he said.
I was thinking the same thing.