Felicity Agnes’ birth was by far my hardest birth, and was in several ways very different from my other labors. (You can read Philomena’s birth story here, and Zelie’s here if you want to know what theirs were like before starting on Felicity’s).
Felicity’s birth was my first non-home birth. We’ve moved to a state with non-evidence based birthing laws that leave an underground, out-of-state midwife as our only option for an assisted home birth, which we were just not comfortable with. We decided to try a free-standing birth center in our town which is staffed by nurse midwives from the nearby Catholic hospital who assist at births at both locations. I had a lot of anxiety about losing the incredibly close relationship I had with my midwives from Ohio, which just naturally comes with the home birth model of care. I knew that the birth center would be different than the hospital as there are no meds to augment labor with, no standard i.v. or hep lock insertion, freedom of motion, freedom to eat, no continuous monitoring machines etc. , but I still worried it would feel very much like a hospital birth in a pretty room. I am so thrilled on the other side to note that this was not at all the case, and that my experience was as close to home as possible without actually being there.
Tuesday, October 13th
After lots of very intense braxton hicks contractions off and on for several evenings, I woke up at 1:23 am on Tuesday to a contraction that I immediately registered as feeling real. They kept coming and I just laid very still in bed trying to sleep in between them. Around 2:30 am, I couldn’t lay comfortably in bed anymore. Contractions were very strong and coming every 8 minutes. I got up, french braided my hair, ate a snack, and did a few little things around the house, stopping with each contraction to breath through it. I texted my doula just to tell her that I could tell that these were real deal contractions so she could plan her day accordingly in case it was birth day.
At 5 am I went back to bed since I felt like I could sleep a little, and got some rest for an hour. Then, as is typical for my labors, things lost their regularity. Sometimes the contractions were coming every 8 minutes, sometimes every 45. (My mother and sister labor this way as well – our contractions rarely ever establish really regular patterns. Zelie was born with irregular contractions at least a solid 10 minutes apart!)
I begged Ethan to work that day so as not to waste a day of paternity leave without necessity. He works from home so he was able to care for the girls during his two short breaks and lunch to give me rest, however I was still completely exhausted by afternoon. A dear friend came and played with the girls from 3pm to 5pm when Ethan got off, so I could nap.
My doula dropped by after work and took a walk with me. She really encouraged me, knowing that my very long labors are mentally exhausting. She did some Spinning Babies exercises with me and then tucked me in to bed to rest since I had essentially been up since 1:20 am.
Contractions continued all evening quite space out, and at about 15 to 25 minutes apart all night. They were so strong, but I would literally fall back into a deep sleep immediately after each one, and woke up feeling much more rested.
Wednesday, October 14th
Ethan insisted in the morning that he was going to start his paternity leave. We got ourselves and the girls ready for the day, contractions coming irregularly but very intensely when they did. We went to a playground and the girls played while I curb walked to try and help baby move down and into a good position. Contractions were different than the day before – with far increased intensity, but still so incredibly spaced out. We went home to rest around 10:30 am, and I did have a tiny bit of bloody show.
At 12:00 pm we went to my already scheduled prenatal appointment, not having had a contraction for almost an hour. Baby and I’s vitals were fine, and the midwife asked if she could check me.
I had one cervical exam at the very end of Philomena’s long labor, and none at all during Zelie’s. My home birth midwives did not usually check for dilation because it is not a reliable indicator of how long until baby comes or how fast labor will progress. Some women may progress at certain averages like a centimeter an hour… but you can also sit at a 3 or 4 for days, and then dilate from 5 to 10 in an hour. Knowing this, the birth center does not do any routine cervical checks in the weeks leading up to birth, but I knew in labor they would at least ask to see where I was.
I could have refused, and the midwife was not pushing me. I thought about it all morning and decided I would like to know where I was, and I was between 4 and 5 cm. This actually felt encouraging in the moment because I knew my day and a half long laboring had at least done something. The midwife helped me do a Spinning Babies exercise, and then said to go home and continue laboring on, and to please call them if the contractions became consistent again, as they were very spaced out at this time. She also said before I left that I could go back to the birthing room that I had selected – that they had it all prepped for me, and to just sit and take it in.
I arrived home from the prenatal at 12:30 pm and rested for a while and then the contractions started to become more regular and I had this strong desire to… make soup. So I am standing in the kitchen making Wellness Mama broccoli soup at 3:15 pm, stopping with contractions here and there. I was using the contraction timer and while they were totally sporadic – 8 minutes, then 20 minutes, then 6 minutes, then 9 minutes etc. they at least were coming with some frequency. I called the birth center and told the receptionist that they were sporadic but way more regular than before and she said she would pass it on.
The midwife who was on call for the night got the message from the front desk and called me, asking me to come be evaluated again. At first I was annoyed – I was not feeling that hard active labor that went on for many hours with the girls before they were born, so I figured I had so many hours to go and that being evaluated was a waste of time. She said this wasn’t high pressure but she just wanted to watch me for a few minutes.
We packed the girls up and drove the 10 minutes to the birth center, arriving at 4:00 pm. She watched me go through a contraction, took my vitals, and then she asked if she could check me. I was dilated to 7.5 cm. I couldn’t believe I was so far in because while this labor was tiring, my contractions had been so incredibly spaced out. I had not had them constantly every 10 to 20 minutes for hours and hours on end like the girls.
The midwife said to take no more than an hour to get the girls settled and get back to the center. We called our sweet church friend to meet us at the house and she grabbed the girls and their bag and off they went. I decided to call the doula and have her meet us and we arrived back to the center at 5:15 pm.
The staff were all leaving for the day and it was very quiet and peaceful. Our room was waiting for us with nice dim lighting. I kept telling the midwife I just thought it was too soon and that I was afraid I would have a whole other day in front of me. The midwife who has caught over 2,000 babies in her career just chuckled and said she bet I was having a baby by 10 pm. I was incredulous and got in the tub she filled for me, thinking we had many, many hours to go.
The midwife just sat back in a chair observing, Ethan and the doula were helping me during contractions, and I met the one nurse present who essentially just did occasional vital sign checks. We all enjoyed chatting in between contractions, learning all about the details of this midwife founding the birth center and the story behind it.
I expressed my dread quite a few times as I labored in the pool at having to do this again, knowing that such hard work was ahead of me. I felt a bit caught off guard that I was already at the center – I had thought all day that I probably had another day to go, so I suddenly felt panicked that I was at the center and that the midwife was so confident that the baby would be coming out in a few hours.
I did not stay in the pool for long – I had lovely huge inflatable pools during my home births, and just couldn’t get comfortable in this narrower, traditionally shaped pool that was hard porcelain and not a puffy cloud.
From 6:30 pm – 7:00 pm, things were really picking up. These contractions were becoming more painful. My preferred spot to labor was standing at the end of the bed, pushing on the bed frame while my doula gave counter pressure and Ethan hugged me or rubbed my arms and back. They read me prayer intentions from my prayer list to really help me focus on offering up each contraction, and Ethan would often read one of my birth affirmations to me which really really helped me cope with each one.
Somewhere in this time I had a few bites of yogurt to eat, and I labored a bit in bed with the peanut ball which hurt, but oh I know those were effective contractions.
Around 7:30 I started to feel transition-y. I was getting upset and agitated, and sometimes weepy. I was having such a hard time processing a lot of emotions. My midwife told me she knew rainbow babies can be difficult to birth emotionally, and she was right. I had a fear of this baby not coming out alive that I didn’t even know I had. It felt almost unreal after a miscarriage that I was really going to be holding a baby again.
Contractions started to come incredibly close together – like 3 to 5 minutes apart. I’d never consistently had contractions that close together before, and it was really hard work to get through them. These were by far the most intense, most frequent labor pains of all three girls’ births, and I was struggling. I couldn’t do this anymore, I was done. I was so done. I literally was gripping on to a crucifix and Felicity’s first outfit in my hands, just saying “Jesus, Jesus, I need you Jesus” to get through each one.
The midwife set up a little “nest” for me at the side of the bed with chux pads on the floor, the peanut ball to lean on as I swayed during contractions, and the birth ball behind me to sit on in between contractions for my few minutes of rest. It was intense and I was tired. My doula, angel that she is, had kept me well hydrated throughout, and gave me a honey stick which helped my energy.
Eventually laboring on the side of the bed came with tons of nausea. For the first time ever in labor, I threw up. I was so glad they had the little bag to get sick in close by! I also had intense shaking in my legs come off and on which is actually quite common for women in transition. I’d read about it in lots of birth stories but never experienced it myself. The contractions were unlike anything I’d ever felt before, and from about 8:00 pm on, each one I felt as *the one* that was going to lead to that feeling of pushing, but the head just wasn’t there. With the girls I was able to just keep a very low “ughhhh” sound during their contractions, but I needed to make much louder noises with these.
I kept on making comments to the midwife that I felt like this was never going to end, that I couldn’t do this all night. She kept reassuring me I wouldn’t. My contractions spaced out a bit, with me totally going into a super quiet, almost sleep like state between them. I was exhausted. She told me that she thought I had a fear of the pain or it continuing on so long that was keeping me from progressing.
I felt really cold and said I wanted to shower, so we went in there and I sat on the shower chair in between contractions, and then stood up with my hands pushing down on the shower chair handles and swaying during them. I was so incredibly exhausted at this point that I started to yell and almost will the baby out with my words, wondering if the midwife was right and that I had a fear that I needed to overcome.
“It’s okay baby. I don’t want to feel this pain but I am not scared. You can come down. You can come out. I love you so much, please, please come!” I yelled these words over and over.
After a while there, I went and stood by the bed and was so ultimately frustrated. I told my midwife I just wanted her to do anything to make this happen. I gripped on to the peanut ball in front of me and swayed hard, trying to make my low sound and mixing it with yells through the pain.
I was so emotional, I was so upset. Finally the midwife said she wanted me to get on the bed and lay on my side with my top leg propped up on the peanut ball, and have Ethan hold me and draw my strength from him.
I had birthed both girls standing and that was the position that always helped me cope with the pain best, so I was really annoyed at the prospect of laying down. She said to please just give it three contractions. So I did and these first two contractions hurt like nothing else – they were the most intense things I’d ever felt in my life. The midwife said that was the most physiological reaction I’d had, and she asked if I would do that one more laying there, then she would help me up.
I hated this position, but she was right. Felicity must have needed that position to finish her rotation coming down, because during the next contraction, I felt her head. I’d waited so long to feel that head come down and there it was. I wanted to wait for another contraction to stand up and push, but I just couldn’t wait – the fetal ejection reflex wouldn’t have it! About 5 seconds after I registered that the head was there, at 9:33 pm, I was pushing her out as my water broke and finally gushed out! The midwife said to give another little push for the shoulders and in one contraction, she was on my chest, in my arms.
I was so shocked! Baby! Baby was here. I literally couldn’t soak up that moment as much as I had with Philomena and Zelie, because I was so incredibly surprised that she had been born. After what felt like an eternity of transition, I could hardly believe it was just over, and then that wave of love and relief just washed over me.
Ethan was going to find out the gender this time, and I told him he needed to look right now, I just had to know! He was so excited to announce another girl, Felicity. My midwife commented at my 48 hour appointment how incredibly surprised I was that it was a girl. It’s true – I thought it had been a boy the whole time, so I just couldn’t believe it!
I birthed the placenta easily and Felicity latched on to nurse before I knew it.
I worried that I had torn horribly because of how unprepared I felt pushing and how incredibly loud I was compared to my first two births where I was much at better relaxing my jaw with my low sound, but the midwife said there was absolutely no tearing. She said that I worked so well side lying with that contraction that got her out, and I have had almost no perineal pain at all postpartum. As someone deathly afraid of needles, I’m relieved to be 3/3 without any stitches after birth!
My absolute favorite part of the evening was after the bit of time it took for the midwife and nurse to verify baby and I were stable. They disappeared and left Ethan and I to snuggle baby with skin to skin, nurse, feast on a pizza I had waiting there for us, and laugh and chat with our doula who remained for an hour or so afterwards. It was amazing how the room went from a place of such stress, to pure joy and happiness as we marveled over our baby.
We needed to stay four hours per their policy before discharge. The nurse came in and out a few times in that amount to check our vitals, help me clean up and dress, and do the basic newborn care like weigh and measure Felicity.
We went through all of the discharge paperwork and instructions and at 2:45 am walked out to the car with our miracle in the car seat, and drove the ten minutes back to our house where she snuggled down with us and slept the whole night.
In the morning our kind church friend fed the girls breakfast and then brought them home to meet their sister around 8:30 am. They were thrilled to hold baby, and surprised that it was a little sister! We were so tired, as I am sure you can tell from our first family photo that our friend took, but excited to be a family of 5 all together.
We are grateful to God for the great work of Felicity Agnes’ birth having been accomplished without any complications, and with a completely respectful birth team who let the process naturally unfold, just as I hoped for. Coming off of miscarrying Andrew and a very long, physically demanding pregnancy, our rainbow baby is such a joy, and boy was her birth a wild ride!