It wasn’t until the fourth or fifth month of my pregnancy that I was feeling well enough to begin to figure out how I was going to handle this birth. My instincts were to have a natural birth but barely anyone I knew had one and it just seemed like you needed to be superwoman to do it – which I am not! I’m a bit of a cry baby and perhaps even part wuss. But then I started reading the holy grail of all birthing books: Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth, and soon after that, I started listening to birth story after birth story from an amazing podcast called The Birth Hour. These two resources told of so many successful natural births that I began to really believe that if so many women could do it, I could too. But I also was very aware that labor could be full of unexpected complications, and I still was doubtful I could actually deal with the pain. At the very least, I hoped that my labor would start naturally. And that it did..
My official due date was October 13th, 2016, so Baby Kisses’ arrival was quite the surprise being a week and a half early. I was actually hoping to be one week late because (1) I had read how common it was for first time moms to go a week late (2) I felt in no way ready for this baby and (3) I loved being pregnant and was sad knowing it would soon be over.
Without knowing how incredibly timely it would be, Mr. Morning Kisses had planned a surprise dinner for us on Sunday night, October 2nd. I was touched with how sweet this was – he wanted one last meal just the two of us before baby. My only instructions were to dress nicely.
We had been spending that weekend trying to finalize for baby’s arrival. That afternoon, we were in the basement sorting through some boxes when my friend called at about 3:45pm. I came upstairs to lie me and my big belly on our bed to speak with her. Shortly into the conversation I felt a small amount of liquid come out of me as if I’d just peed in my pants unknowingly. I interrupted her and said ‘hold on a minute – ..liquid just came out of me….!’ And she said ‘oh my god, did your water just break?’ And I said ‘there’s no way – I am so early, and I am so not ready for this!’ I had hoped it was pee, but there was no odor, and it was clear – two definite attributes I had learned make up this special “water”. I texted my doula, Kim, and asked with hope and fear in my voice ‘is there anyway this could NOT be my water breaking?’ She asked if there was any red (there wasn’t) and told me it’s possible it could be just mucus and to just watch and wait. But about 40 minutes later, the same thing happened, but this time there was a twinge of red, followed by lots of movement from baby.
Feeling quite overwhelmed and shocked, I padded myself up and went back down to the basement, silently passing by my mother, to find Mr. Kisses to tell him the news. I cried. Although I was excited for baby’s arrival, I was also very aware how different our lives would forever be, and had been feeling sad and fearful about that. But he reassured me in his calm and steady way. He told me again how excited he was and how amazing it all would be, and I found solace in that.
I went back upstairs at about 6pm to try to nap before dinner, but the same thing happened twice more. I called and left a message with my midwives. Midwife Chrissy called me back and it was during that phone call at around 6:45pm that I first felt some dull aches in my lower belly that felt just like mild period cramps. Chrissy said to monitor how I was feeling over the next few hours and to call again later on.
Although my labor was clearly starting, I decided I still wanted to go to dinner, desperate for one last time just the two of us. We threw some last-minute things into our half-packed hospital bag – just in case – and decided my parents could bring the carseat if need be. I stretched myself into the dress I had worn one week earlier to a wedding, loaded myself up with pads, sat on a towel, and off we went. Along with my purse I also brought what I thought would be a good ‘early-labor supply bag’: a tote with pads, towels, toilet paper, and a plastic bag.
As we drove down the driveway off to dinner, my parents were waiting to drive up. We just waved from the window and drove on. Not only were we late, but I didn’t want to tell them what was going on because I didn’t want my mom to cancel the dinner she had worked so hard to prepare for and host the next day.
Mr. Kisses had picked ’90 Acres’, an extremely fancy restaurant in Peapack. I had him stop well before the valet-only entrance so I could pull my dress back down and try to fix myself enough to walk inside. I went straight to the bathroom to sort things out and then met him at the bar for a glass of wine before we were seated. The restaurant was gorgeous, my wine was delicious, and it was fun knowing I was in labor and having it be our special little secret.
Dinner was nothing short of spectacular. My phone was out on the table timing my mild contractions. At the start of dinner they were 4-8 minutes apart lasting for about 30 seconds. By the end they were 4-5 minutes apart lasting for about 45 seconds.
When I got up from the table at the end of the meal, a flood escaped going down my legs, into my boots, and onto the floor. After Mr. Kisses assured me the back of my dress was clear, I tried to keep my cool as I carefully walked to the bathroom. I had to ditch my underwear – they were drenched. I loaded up with supplies from my tote, took my last pregnancy photo in the bathroom mirror, and we headed home.
It seemed like as soon as we got home at around 11pm, things really intensified. My contractions were longer, and much stronger. I remember having what felt like a double contraction, and not being able to move because of the pain.
Mr. Kisses finished packing the hospital bag and put in the carseat. He showered and I urged him to get some sleep so at least one of us was rested. I started out in bed with him but things were so intense I felt like I had to be alone. I laid on the bathroom floor but it was too painful there. I tried hanging out by the toilet but that didn’t work either. I listened to my Hypnobabies tracks but they weren’t doing anything to manage the pain. I felt the urge to both poop and throw up, and eventually I did both – knowing this was one way the body prepares itself for birth. My contractions were now about 3 minutes apart lasting for 45 seconds. Although I knew this meant I was quite far along, again: in no way did I think I would have a fast labor with this being my first.
At around midnight I called Chrissy. She suggested I take a sleeping pill to rest in between the contractions. At first I resisted but then agreed and took a Unisom. She said to call her in an hour with an update. I moved into the guest room and tried different positions on the bed to manage the contractions, but the pain truly paralyzed me. All I could do was take deep breaths and count down from 10, trying to tell myself that when I got to 4, 3, 2, the pain would subside. But it was so intense, it took me to another world for those 30-45 seconds. In between them I slumped over some pillows and actually did fall asleep for the minute or two break I had in between. This was the time when I was most doubtful I could actually get through this without pain medication.
I waited until 1:40am – an hour and 40 minutes later to call Chrissy – I was trying to be brave and strong. By then my contractions were about every 2 minutes, lasting for 50 seconds. I could not talk through them which I knew was a sign things were far along, but I was still in denial about how far I could have been.
The midwives like to first meet at their office before heading to the hospital so they can check your dialation (to save a potential unnecessary trip to the hospital), but Chrissy noticed we both lived in the same town, and offered to come over instead. This was one of the best things to happen during my labor, because I don’t think I could have survived both a 20 minute drive to the office, and then another 15 to the hospital.
Chrissy said she’d be over in half an hour. Going to open the garage for her was a giant effort – I ran downstairs after a contraction in the bedroom, paused in the kitchen for a strong one, went to open the garage door, and then ran back upstairs to have another strong one back on the bed.
Sure enough, 30 minutes later, Chrissy showed up and checked me – I was 5-6 cm dilated and she suggested we head to the hospital. I woke Mr. Kisses up and we got ready. I somehow managed to ask him to look at the hospital checklist I had made. We had done almost everything on it but I couldn’t even try to complete what hadn’t been done in the state I was in. I did circle ‘cooler’ (for my placenta) but I told him to forget about it, because I couldn’t think straight. But last minute he saw and grabbed my mom’s cooler in the garage. Despite the pain, it was funny to think of putting my placenta in the cooler she uses for her lunches. At some point I managed to get out ‘I have a doula!’ and we called Kim to tell her to it was time to come to the hospital.
I hobbled to the car, delicately got myself in, and tried to manage myself and my contractions on the way to the hospital. It was super difficult! Red lights were a killer. I couldn’t talk or be talked to, touch or be touched, or even think. We arrived to the hospital 15 minutes later, and miraculously Chrissy was standing outside when we got there. I opted to get in a wheelchair and we went right in even though it was 3am. We went straight to my labor room with just one stop to sign one paper. I was impressed and relieved with how quickly I got to my room.
And best of all, room number four had a birthing tub and a nurse I recognized as being the daughter of one of the midwives even though I had never met her before. She looked just like the midwife’s other daughter who works at the office. Weakly I asked ‘are you Grace..?’ When she said yes I told her how happy I was that she was there and how much I loved her mom. I felt so happy I had such a solid team of people in my birthing room: Mr. Kisses, my doula Kim, my midwife Chrissy and her assistant, and nurse Grace.
At first I had to be hooked up to the fetal monitoring system for 20 minutes, but I expected and knew that. I sat on the hospital bed and Grace strapped it around me. My contractions were so intense that she had to hold the monitor in place because my belly was moving so much. It also took a little longer than usual to read. Near the end of the monitoring, I started feeling pushing sensations which felt like an unavoidable urge to bear down – my body was doing it whether I wanted it to or not – I was just along for the ride.
I had carefully picked out a very cute laboring outfit of which I envisioned myself wearing for hours while I labored at home and I even hoped for some time outside: pink and blue paisley pajama pants with a two-tone pink bralet. Despite all the pain I managed to ask to change into my ‘labor bra’ before I got in the tub. My team of helpers somehow found it – on it went, and in I went to the tub.
Mr. Kisses had gone to park the car and later told me the tub scene was quite the site when he returned to the room: me, only in my bra in the water, with four women surrounding me. The water temperature was lovely and warm when I first got in but when I sat down I had a very strong contraction/pushing sensation. Chrissy checked me and said I would be fully dilated if she could move part of my cervix away during my next contraction. It was incredibly painful, but she got me there. It’s crazy to think that within one hour I went from 5–6 cm to 10. I had heard that going to the hospital can suspend your labor, but Chrissy later told me it could have been that my body relaxed knowing it would soon be in a safe place to deliver.
I spent maybe an hour in the tub, I’m not really sure. I had no idea what to do, so Chrissy and Kim coached me into trying different positions to help bring baby down – squatting, one leg up / one leg down, lying down, sitting up, hunched over. I was making beyond strange pushing sounds over and over during the contractions – they were so weird they were almost distracting. It was like something had taken over me and was making the sound for me – I couldn’t stop it if I tried. But Chrissy and Kim encouraged me to take that external sound energy and instead focus it internally on pushing. Thankfully I found the pushing sensations to be half as painful as the contractions which was quite a relief.
Everyone was so encouraging. I thought I would want to be touched/massaged/rubbed, but I couldn’t handle that, though Chrissy did put pressure on my head which felt really good. Mr. Kisses put on music from my labor playlists (Van Morrison, Adele, and Paul Simon) and followed the leads of Chrissy and Kim saying all the right things. He was so strong. Though the lights were quite bright over the tub, the rest of the room was dimly lit and Kim even brought string lights and hung them around the clock. I knew and trusted everyone in the room so the mood was cozy despite the insanity I was going through. This was the one time I asked about pain medication, but Chrissy and Kim lovingly told me I didn’t need it nor did I want it, and that was that. Also being that I was fully dilated I think I was too far along for an epidural anyways.
Chrissy suggested I get out of the tub to change positions, so baby would continue to descend. Grace brought me warm towels which I thought was quite luxurious and I moved to the bathroom where Kim had me sit on the toilet backwards leaning over some pillows. I remember someone saying ’if you feel like you’re going to push the baby out let us know!!’ I was only there for a short time. Then I moved to the bed and was probably there for about an hour, maybe longer, until she was born.
Chrissy told me gently that I really had to give the pushing more effort. She had me switch positions from my back to my sides and then squatting. I pulled on a scarf tug-of-war style with Mr. Kisses and then on a squat bar. For a long while my lower back really hurt which Kim later told me was just part of baby’s descent. I remember being scared and asking how this was going to be possible! And then Chrissy telling me an affirmation from my birth plan: ‘Women have been doing this for all of humanity! You can do this just as they have.’
I started pushing harder. When a contraction came on I took a giant breath and pushed with all my might for as long as I could til I could barely breathe, took another huge breath and did it again. Finally, after almost three hours of pushing, Chrissy told me baby was crowning and asked if I wanted to feel her, which at first I didn’t, but eventually I did. I was really scared to push her out further. I really thought I was going to break. Each time she crowned I felt the ‘ring of fire’ type of pain that I had heard described in the stories I listened to, but there was relief when she went back in.
There was no where else to go but forward. I pushed thinking I was ruining myself. I was giving it all my effort but it wasn’t enough – I had to push even harder. Chrissy mentioned an episiotomy but I said no. Her head came out and went back in over and over. Finally I pushed so hard it came out partially but didn’t go back in! In all the stories I had listened to, I had never heard of this! She stayed like that for three more pushes and finally I gave it my everything because I could not handle the constant burning ring of fire! Everyone exclaimed that her head came out, and I didn’t even wait for my next contraction to get the rest of her out – I took a giant breath and gave another huge push and out she came at 6:19am, just over 3 hours after arriving to the hospital.
In all the birth stories I had listened to it was always this moment that made me tear up and get really emotional, but honestly in the moments after her birth I was in such utter shock of what had just actually happened to me that I couldn’t really connect and be present – which is clear in the photos and our birth video. Baby Kisses was put on my chest and I saw such blissful happiness all over Mr. Kisses’ face. But I was also very much aware of the last stage of labor – delivering the placenta. Even though I had just worked so hard, I knew it wasn’t over, and had heard that this stage could be problematic.
And then all hell broke loose.
Soon after Mr. Kisses cut the umbilical cord, he told me it looked like a liter of blood came gushing out of me. And then a second one. I was having a postpartum hemorrhage.
Chrissy tried to get my placenta out as quickly as possible, but my cord broke leaving it stuck inside of me. It had to come out immediately. The bright lights turned on, a doctor walked in, and I started wailing. Someone moved the baby from my chest to Mr. Kisses’ chest to continue the skin-to-skin time. I knew what the doctor had to do and I freaked. I screamed each of the three times he had to go in me – up to his elbow – to try to get my placenta out. The first time he couldn’t. The second time he got it, and the third time was to make sure he got it all. I honestly can’t remember the pain. All I remember is screaming the whole time but as soon as it was over I felt so relieved and grateful – I thanked him profusely for saving my life. I was given an ultrasound to make sure it was all out (it was), and an IV with antibiotics. I was just shy of needing a blood transfusion.
But it still wasn’t over! Chrissy had to then check over me to see if and where I needed to be stitched up. Miraculously, I didn’t tear in the usual spots and just needed a few stitches. I couldn’t believe it. I swore I was going to rip in half and I didn’t! Chrissy numbed me and I didn’t feel a thing. I was on a total high – super happy and chatty. You’d never have known I was missing a night’s sleep and just pushed out a baby. I insisted everyone eat the snacks I had brought specifically to nourish and thank them for helping me. Kim sat with me while I was being stitched up and we went over some of the details of the past few hours.
And then it was time to call home. My mom later told me that when the phone rang she thought I was calling from upstairs – they had no idea anything had happened or that we had even left the house! ‘I had the baby!’ I said with great emotion. She was shocked! I spoke with them both and they said they would come as soon as they could. Next we called Mr. Kisses’ parents. Those phone calls were pure joy. I was so excited to bring such happiness to our parents’ lives.
Everyone soon left and I was sad to see them go. I was wheeled from Labor and Delivery to Maternity with my placenta in my lap, Mr. Kisses and Baby Kisses in tow. The new room was bright and sunny – October 3rd was a gorgeous fall day.
The two days spent in the hospital were dreamy. For a long time during my pregnancy I wanted a homebirth but I couldn’t be happier I was at the hospital. The nurses were angels. They and two lactation consultants all helped me learn how to breastfeed, which I was more nervous about than labor.
Mr. Kisses went home that morning to hide my placenta – not only was it in my mom’s cooler but now it’s currently in her basement freezer packaged inconspicuously and labeled “special from S to J” – his hopeful way of not having anyone open it! He brought back our leftovers from our fancy night out one night prior which we ate for dinner that night in the hospital. It was quite a thought to be eating the same food in such entirely different circumstances.
I got discharged two days later and we’ve been figuring out parenthood ever since. I wish I put in as much time and effort on coming home with a baby (literally none) as I did for birth! My recovery was swift and I felt great right away. The day we got home from the hospital the three of us even went for a short walk. The weather that week was stunning.
All in all my labor was about 12 hours – way shorter than I thought it would be. I don’t consider myself to be tough or to have a high pain tolerance so I chose the Hypnobabies home study course as my birth class in the hopes that it would help me have an easier labor and delivery. It was a nice informative course and the audio tracks were very relaxing (I fell asleep each time I was practicing my hypnosis skills), but when it came down to pain management, all the hyono-prep I did went out the window. I credit my ability to have an unmedicated labor and delivery to the trusted team I had in my birthing room and to all of the positive birth stories I listened to while pregnant. Above all, I trusted in my body and all the women who have done this well before pain drugs existed.
My biggest reason for wanting a positive experience was so I could share it with whoever would listen in the hopes to normalize birth and take away the fear that surrounds it. It was truly the most incredible thing I’ve ever been witness to. I’m in awe of what my body did but even more in awe of Baby Kisses. I can’t believe we made her, grew her, and now she’s ours forever. It’s truly a wonder.