I want to first acknowledge what a gift it is to write this story. It’s not lost on me how many Mamas and Mamas-to-be are yearning to write their story that has yet to happen. I’m immensely grateful I’ve been able to experience two births. I don’t think they could be any more different from each other (read Joy’s here), yet I’m still so incredibly pleased with each one, and that too, is such a gift.
I’m a firm believer that you can’t have it all when it comes to growing your family. It’s VERY rare for someone to have a seamless pre-conception experience, pregnancy, labor and breastfeeding journey. If you can have two of those experiences you’re pleased with, that’s a win. If you can have three, consider yourself even more blessed. If you have all four, then you’re a unicorn and your mom friends are probably secretly jealous. I feel very fortunate to be in the “I got three!” category. Breastfeeding seems to always be our dumpster fire (perhaps a story for another time), but this labor was a beautiful and empowering experience!
I had been having signs Clara was coming for a few weeks. Contractions here and there, losing my mucus plug, intense pelvic pressure and feeling like I was in one big and almost constant Braxton Hix contraction. A few weeks before she came, I actually thought something may be wrong because I couldn’t feel her as much. Turns out when you have as many Braxton Hicks as I did and your belly is constantly rock hard, it’s pretty hard to feel your baby (even if she was a little ninja baby with frequent karate chops). We went in for some monitoring and she was happy as a clam moving all around. My husband had been predicting for months that she would come early, but we are both horrible at predicting things when it comes to our kids (100% incorrect on all due dates, genders, etc. to date) so I took the prediction with a grain of salt.
February 5th, 2021 7:30pm
We were finishing up a family dinner and shortly after I started to have some light contractions. They were averaging about 5-7 minutes a part and very manageable. For the first couple hours I didn’t think too much of it. I was hopeful it would lead to something, but was also trying not to get attached to the outcome. Joy came 8 days late and I wasn’t even 40 weeks yet. I took a bath, text my doula to let her know there was some increased activity and I would keep her in the loop if things got exciting. I let my husband know but also reassured him “I got this” for the time being. I won’t go into all the details because honestly most people won’t understand, but my husband is currently in a year-long VERY rigorous military leadership program. It usually translates to about 3-4 hrs of studying, reading and writing every night AFTER he comes from home his full-time civilian job. This particular Friday night was the night before his weekend military drill and he had a major paper due the following morning at 6am. Now before you go thinking “a paper? Who cares about a paper when your wife might be in labor?”…but it’s not that simple. This course is something we agreed to as a family and knew the demands going in. No, we didn’t know we’d end up pregnant during it but it was/is a family commitment. Submitting that paper was *almost* as important as birthing a baby, at least from the Army’s perspective. And when it was starting to look like he would be absent from drill that weekend, the paper became even more important (spoiler alert- he was required to make up the drill the very following weekend, just a short week after baby was born). So when I mention this paper throughout the story, just know it was a big deal. Plus, it adds a bit of levity to this birth story ;).
Soooo, I told him there was a little action going on, but I would let him know if I needed him. And emphasized if we get to a point where I’m telling him I need him, I REALLY need him.
For the next couple hours I continued to time the contractions, discounting the contraction timer app’s suggestions of “you should make sure your hospital bag is packed and call your doctor”. I was still very much convinced this could just be a teaser (aka prodromal labor) and went about my usual night time routine. I took a bath and then JUST in case, I took a shower. If I didn’t wash my hair that night and we ended up in the hospital I knew I’d probably have dreadlocks by the time I got around to showering/washing my hair again. At some point I think I mentioned to Hector, who was working furiously in his office, that “I’ll be pretty surprised if at least by this time tomorrow, we aren’t at the hospital”.
My doula, Megan, checked in with me and let me know she was going to get some rest in case tonight was the night, and I decided to try and do the same. We touched base on a few things, like if there were any updates to my birth plan and I asked her to remind me to grab the colostrum from the freezer whenever we would eventually be leaving for the hospital. She let me know she was praying for me and I responded letting her know I was currently feeling very at peace.
I called my mom real quick to let her know I was having a few contractions and wasn’t sure if they would lead to anything but wanted her to be praying. We had a prayer together and I got off to rest. I cued up my labor and delivery playlist, put some Clary Sage in the diffuser and I think for the next couple hours the contractions became less rhythmic, allowing me to either get in a very light sleep or at least a deep relaxed state. Almost a couple hours went by and I remember the contractions feeling more intense, but also feeling confident in how I was coping. I was breathing through them and it really felt like my body was working for me. It was honestly a pretty special time, and I enjoyed having the space to work things out on my own while listening to music and occasionally looking at birth affirmation cards.
Things get a little foggy around here but my contraction timer and call log helped build a loose timeline. I didn’t text anyone updates and my sweet husband was still in his office working on his paper, but here are the things I do know:
-I began to figure out that laying on my left side was the most comfortable position
-I drew another bath thinking this would be soothing. I was very wrong. Being on my back was excruciating and I think I was in the tub all of two minutes.
-I think at some point I realized this wasn’t a teaser and that I was very likely in labor (in hindsight, DUH. I was absolutely in active labor).
-I began to periodically call my husband to ask him for counterpressure and I was also very very curious if he had finished that darn paper (he was not quite done yet)
-Somewhere probably around 1:40a or so I let him know I would probably give it another 30 minutes or so and would call Megan to let her know I would be needing her soon
Buckle up, this story gets a little more exciting from here on out.
February 6th 1:45am
My plan of calling my doula in another half hour or so changed to calling her just a few minutes. I told her I needed her and to please head to our house ASAP. The next 20 minutes or so were some of the hardest. I went from feeling at peace and confident to completely overwhelmed and afraid. My husband, not quite through with his paper, began to do something else very important… working on getting our nanny here because we obviously couldn’t leave Joy alone and he also began to pack the car. If you know us, you know we don’t pack lightly.
The contractions began to stack and in hindsight I realize I was very likely in transition at that point. According to my app, they were 2-3 minutes apart and I called Megan back at 2:19a. I vaguely remember discussing whether or not she should just meet us at the hospital or still come to the house. I’m so glad we still went with the house, especially since the car wasn’t packed yet. We hung up, only for me to call her right back. I remember asking her to pray. I was in the bathroom and said I feel like I need to push (I have only a very slight memory of this) and she was really worried about me giving birth on the toilet. She was almost at the house and we stayed on the phone until she got there at about 2:30a.
This next part was very much filled in the blanks by Megan. As she mentioned details during our postpartum appointment, most of it did come back to me and I was able to get a good laugh. When she arrived Hector was by my side applying counter pressure to my back. They quickly switched off so we could resume packing the car and … you guessed it, put the finishing touches on that paper. Our nanny was also en route.
At some point both Hector and Megan were next to the bed as I lay on my left side with non-stop counter pressure. I remember feeling like I had to push and honestly, I was pushing. I couldn’t help it. Thankfully, I was not (yet) fully dilated, but I remember telling them both that I was pretty sure this baby was coming and that they should grab some towels because I didn’t think we were going to make it to the hospital. Megan tells this part pretty funny and said she’s never seen a husband be so calm (and not rushed). Both she and I knew he could handle this situation medically, if needed, but was still not ideal. Although home birth has always interested me, this was not my backwards way of trying to achieve it. I was just not okay with a roadside birth. Hospital or home- not in between! Hector calmly vetoed my thoughts around grabbing towels for our baby to be born on our bed and went to finish loading up the car.
I want to make a disclaimer that the things I did and said from here on out came from a very different part of me. As a hardcore enneagram 2, people pleaser and believer in “please and thank yous”, I pretty much threw all that crap out the window. I primarily spoke in only “noun, verb” sentences and occasionally just noun or verb like “MY BACK!” or my favorite… “NO”.., which was apparently my favorite response either verbally or non-verbally.
Making my way to the truck felt like a next to impossible task. I couldn’t get a break from contractions and when I would manage to stand, I’d say no and get right back in bed. At some point I got an actual break that allowed me to head out the door. When I got to the truck I told Hector to clear out the backseat because I was not sitting. Megan, bless her sweet heart, was told (by yours truly) she was coming with us. She would typically prefer to drive her own vehicle but that just wasn’t an option on the table- I needed her and wasn’t letting her out of my sight or her hands off of my back. Somehow I managed to climb in the back and lay down across the back seat with my legs in her lap. I remember laying there, mumbling under my breath “you’re fighting my battles for me, I only have to be still”… and trying to find my breath for what felt like an eternity. I spoke and prayed scripture many times over during Joy’s birth and claiming those promises were just as powerful during this labor. It was time to head out and Hector had grabbed the final things and…submitted his paper!
Hector would describe our last few minutes at home something like this “It was like you’re an offensive line coach. There’s 30 seconds left in the game, you have no timeouts and you’re yelling at the fat boys to move up the field”🤦🏼♀️🤦🏼♀️. Apparently I was a little bossy but I guess I didn’t feel like everyone else’s sense of urgency was at urgent as it needed to be.
The drive to the hospital was thankfully very quick. We pulled up to the valet and Hector requested a wheelchair..which I was quick to refuse. There was no way I was sitting down. I was walking in that hospital on my own two feet IF I could get the contractions to stop long enough. Megan said we sat in the valet for 5 minutes before I was finally able to get out and walk inside.
We hurried into triage and I made a beeline for a couch and got on my left side. The woman at the sign-in desk was trying to get me to go over there and she be crazy. I said NO. The triage nurse asked if she could get a current weight on me and I said NO. I only wanted one thing- to know how dilated I was. Tell me how far I am so I can make some decisions about how this is going down. At one point, Hector stepped away to use the restroom, knowing he probably wouldn’t have an opportunity if this all happened as quick as we were thinking it might. Megan was also not allowed in triage and I just remember yelling “WHERE ARE MY PEOPLE?!”.
When asked about an epidural, I didn’t know what to say yet. I had one with Joy and was honestly pleased with how everything turned out. But I also was hopeful to be able to avoid pain medication, if possible. All I knew was I wanted to be checked before I could begin to make that decision. The nurse checked me and I was an eight. That was amazing validation for so many reasons and then finally the pace picked up. I don’t remember everything the nurse said but I remember her making a call and it basically translated to “we got a live one…coming in hot!”.
No idea what time.
We got into the L&D room and I got in the bed for what would probably be my last little time in the bed because even my old faithful left side could no longer provide any relief from those darn contractions. There were more questions about an epidural, but I held off knowing they wouldn’t order anything until my “rapid” (30 minutes isn’t rapid when you’re laboring) COVID test results came back. I would also like to say that a COVID swab during a contraction is just all sorts of wrong.
From there on out, I pretty much couldn’t stay still. I was getting in and out of the bed just trying desperately hard to cope. Ultimately, standing while leaning over and letting my chest rest on the bed was a position that at least allowed me to rest a little while also allowing me to squat. I remember needing to pee so bad and I also remember announcing I would NOT be using the toilet. Sit down? Psshhhh. No way. So just picture a nurse holding a bedpan underneath my legs, but I’m not actually standing still so she’s constantly adjusting the location of the bed pan mid air. Bless her. It was so difficult to pee when there was so much pressure. I once again felt like I had to push and I announced that. That same nurse told me to get in the bed because my baby could fall on the floor if I’m standing up. I don’t know if I said “NO”, but I ignored her and did not get in the bed.
Megan later mentioned how many women are suggestible during labor and will often go along with guidance on “let’s try this position” or “why don’t we…”, but that was NOT me. It’s like every time I ever wanted to speak my truth but didn’t came out in that one night.
At some point the on-call doctor came in. Hector and him had met before and I knew they would work well together. Hector was hopeful to catch Clara, just like he did with Joy, and Dr. C was thankfully A-okay with that plan. He asked my plans on an epidural and by that time my COVID results had finally come back negative. I was still unsure and I was getting so weak and tired. He checked me and I was a nine. He also offered to break my water, but I declined. I think I was hopeful it would happen on its own.
A little more time passed and I was getting more and more exhausted. I was hot and then cold the next minute. Megan got me a cool wash rag while Hector was helping me hydrate with coconut water. Megan was constantly applying counter pressure and I remember if she would move to do something else (like wet a wash rag) I would yell “MY BACK!”. At one point Hector got on the other side of the bed and I held onto his arms. Having that traction was helpful and it helped conserve a little bit of my energy.
My playlist was going in the background, but at some point I think I had hit repeat on one of my favorites. I hadn’t noticed that it literally just kept playing and playing. Later on Hector asked if I had even put any other songs on the “playlist”. There were actually 21 songs on that list, but you wouldn’t have known it.
Child Again by Need 2 Breathe
“…Let my past mean nothing, make it powerless
I am free like a river, I am free like a river
All my hope unbroken, you’re my innocence
I am free like a river, I’m a child again…”
I was ready for Dr. C to break my water, especially after he explained that the intact bag was likely what was keeping me from fully dilating to a 10. I also finally made the decision and verbalized that I wasn’t getting an epidural. In hindsight, there probably wouldn’t have even been time but, it was still an option they were leaving on the table. Dr. C was so accommodating and told me he could break my bag of waters while I was standing up.
It felt so nice to have that type of support and not be confined to the bed. Only thing is, it’s a difficult position to break a bag of waters and my bag was apparently an extra tough one. I guess I grow em’ strong! Three attempts later, it still wasn’t fully broken, so into the bed I went. He was finally able to fully rupture it! I remember the gush, a huge relief of pressure and just how much I could truly feel everything that was happening.
I’m not sure how I didn’t put two and two together that soon after that bag breaking it would be time for me to push, but it was a very quick transition. I shifted positions to the squat bar and wrapped an arm around Hector’s shoulders for leverage.
I honestly just remember being in shock that it was already time to push. It felt like the whole room was yelling and cheering to “PUSH!” “PUSH, SHANNON” “PUSH WITH YOUR BUTT”. All that yelling and I think I yelled louder than everyone combined. In addition to being in shock that it was already time to push, I was also very quickly in shock at how much this part also really stinkin’ hurt. It was a different, yet equally intense, type of pain and “ring of fire” is definitely an accurate description. I don’t think I’ll ever forget how it felt to feel her head break through and the immediate relief that followed, once her shoulders were out.
Dr. C. caught her, said “Lookie what I got!” and passed her through my legs to Hector. Although the plan was for Hector to catch her just like he did with Joy, my position and clinging around his shoulders for dear life, didn’t really allow for that. I know he really wanted to catch her, but I’m so thankful he didn’t move because the death grip I had on his shoulders was so helpful in pushing that sweet baby out.
Hector and I had a brief moment of confirming with one another that we wanted to name her Clara (with both Joy and Clara we wanted to wait until they were born to see them and officially name them) and Dr C. began to sing happy birthday to her. He also asked if I would like to cut her cord! It was the neatest thing and I just remember feeling a little in shock and awe by all of it.
It was amazing how the pain almost instantly subsided after she was out. I remember how fast “the golden hour” flew by. She was on my chest for a little over an hour and when they came to get her vitals I just remember thinking it hadn’t been long enough. I wanted to soak up every ounce of that time. I also remember thinking I was really ready for the tacos that our sweet doula was going to get us. She had to Uber back to our house since she road with us, and she was also kind enough to drop off all the things we forgot in our rush to get out the door (which was a lot!).
I can’t begin to put words to how grateful I am for a healthy birth and just being so pleased with how it all played out. The Lord kept us safe and provided all we needed. I’m also really excited that I was able to have a natural childbirth, but I don’t want to put this birth on a pedestal compared to Joy’s. Each labor and birth experience was unique and exactly how it was supposed to be. Thank you, Jesus for another healthy baby girl and for choosing Clara Ruth to be our daughter!
Last but not least, I want to say a HUGE thank you to our compassionate, intuitive and patient doula, Megan with Rooted Birth. If you’re in San Antonio and wanting doula services, I highly recommend you get in touch with Megan!