To be completely honest, pregnancy and giving birth was always something that I had a lot of fear around. It’s not that I didn’t want to experience it…I have always known I have wanted to be a mom. But I think society, the media, and the movies make it seem like such a scary thing. Or that women ultimately have to suffer for the entirety of their pregnancy and birth experience. Marketing targets women to get their bodies back, prevent stretch marks, have a “belly only pregnancy” etc. and it is just sickening. When you think of birth in the movies and on TV it always involves a woman screaming in agony and cussing out her husband for “doing this to her.” And well, in my personal experience, I couldn’t find any of this to be any further from the truth.
As soon as I found out I was pregnant and noticed how my body INSTANTLY began to change to create life, I no longer feared the evolution my body was about to endure. All I worried about was taking care of myself to have a healthy pregnancy, and I knew from there my body would do whatever it needed to do all on its own.
When it came to birth, I truly hadn’t put much thought into what kind of experience I wanted to have until well into my second trimester. I think at the beginning stages of pregnancy everything is so new, and you’re still trying to fathom the fact that you are indeed carrying life inside of you. At that point, birth seems so very far away. But after we had moved and settled into our new house this spring amidst the pandemic lockdown, I had a lot more time on my hands to sit back and reflect on what it was I envisioned for the birthing experience. I started asking lots of questions to other mama friends, reading books, listening to birth story podcasts, and watching so many birth vlogs on YouTube. I am the type of person who likes to be as educated and informed as possible to ease my mind, so I enjoyed hearing all sorts of stories and soaking up as much information as I could. My OBGYN team was absolutely amazing throughout my pregnancy, but I found it interesting that the birth experience was never something that came up in prenatal appointments. I essentially did all of the research and educating on my own, and I am SO glad I did because it paid off in so many ways, as I will get into as the story unfolds.
At the end of the day, I had completely made up my mind that I wanted to have an unmedicated birth. I fully understood, however, that sometimes interventions are necessary for the health of mom and baby, so I did go into it with an open mind that something like an emergency c-section was never off of the table. However, based on all of the statistics and research I read, I knew that avoiding pain medication/an epidural would significantly decrease my chances for needing a c-section in the first place. I was so fascinated learning about birth, and how the woman’s body was designed to do it naturally. And how birth was truly (in most circumstances) best left untouched. Particularly, The Husband-Coached Childbirth by Dr. Bradley was the book that completely changed my perspective and made me feel so empowered that I could indeed give birth unmedicated. As I learned what I did, I would share the information and my feelings on it with my husband, Jordan. He would have been 100% supportive of whatever birth plan I decided on, but he became just as adamant as I was about going natural. I have nothing against medicine and those who decide to have births with an epidural, etc. But I personally was more terrified of the risks associated with one than I was of going through labor without it.
So from there, I started doing everything I could to prepare and make that desire happen. I continued listening to birth stories, watching videos of unmedicated labors + deliveries, staying as active as possible, and developing coping strategies. We also hired our doulas, Meaghann + Taryn which was one of the BEST decisions we made and the best money we spent thus far. They met with us a couple of times prior to our due date to help us develop our list of “birth preferences” rather than a birth “plan” because as we encountered, it’s rare that things go exactly according to plan. But it helped tremendously to have their support along the way and to have a beautifully written list of preferences to hand to our nurses at the hospital. They were amazing at making sure those wishes were met and they respected all of our decisions. This list was as follows:
- Intermittent monitoring if no signs of distress.
- No interventions of any kind, unless medically necessary.
- I plan to labor without pain medication.
- Freedom of movement to cope during labor (shower, walking, ball, etc.)
- I would like to have lights dimmed & create my own relaxing space.
- Limited cervical checks, preferably same nurse or doctor each time.
- I would like to wait to push until I feel the urge, even if fully dilated.
- I would like the option to push in different positions (side-lying, hands &knees, etc.)
- I would like skin-to-skin as soon as possible.
- I would like delayed cord clamping.
- My husband would like to cut the umbilical cord.
- I intend to exclusively breastfeed.
- I plan on my baby receiving the antibiotic eye ointment.
- I plan on my baby receiving Vitamin K and Hep B vaccines.
We had our list ready to go, our hospital bags packed (for the most part) and were anxiously awaiting the arrival of our little one in those final weeks. I began having pretty intense Braxton Hicks contractions almost every night at the same time and was starting to feel a lot of soreness and pressure in my pelvic area. So we started to wonder when I would actually end up going into labor, and although the wonder was so exciting, the “what if” was also a little mentally exhausting.
The weekend that I hit 37 weeks, I randomly started getting super itchy. Like, all over my entire body itchy. It started on my arms and chest and made its way to my belly, legs, and feet. I thought I was having some sort of allergic reaction to sunscreen or something that I ate, so I waited a couple of days to see if it would subside. By Monday, it still hadn’t and I was as itchy as ever. I started to get really nervous because I had heard about cholestasis of pregnancy on The Birth Hour Podcast — and that itchiness was the main symptom of it. Basically cholestasis is a liver condition that occurs in late pregnancy due to the increase of hormones in the body, and it can cause serious risks to the baby if left undiagnosed. So I called my OB that Monday and they wanted to see me right away. The doctor said it could either be cholestasis or some fluke skin reaction, but that if it was cholestasis they would likely want to induce me at 38 weeks to avoid any risk to the baby (which can sadly be as severe as stillbirth). They did blood work and told me that the bile acid levels would take up to a week to receive. With that, I started wrapping my head around the possibility of needing to be induced. Of course, I was willing to do WHATEVER it took to get our baby here safely, but I was pretty nervous about induction because I have heard that it makes going unmedicated that much harder. If Pitocin is required, it can make contractions that much more intense very quickly. But I also knew that just because I might be induced, it didn’t mean my entire plan of going unmedicated had to go out the window.
The next day, I got a call that my liver enzyme levels had come back normal. So I thought this might have been a good sign that it wasn’t cholestasis after all. But we still awaited hearing about the bile acid levels and the possibility of diagnosis was still there. That whole week any time I felt less movement from the baby, I would panic. It never lasted long enough to need to call the doctor, but that brief mini heart attack was enough to exhaust me.
Finally, I went in for my 38-week appointment the following week. As the doctor came into the room she said, “We were just talking about you! We got your blood work back today, and it turns out your levels are slightly elevated which means you do indeed have cholestasis. So, we definitely don’t want you to go any longer than 39 weeks. How do you feel about being induced?” Even though I was a little surprised, I was actually pretty calm the whole time, I think because I had spent the last week processing this possibility. I told her that I was fine with being induced for the well being of my baby, but that my only hesitation was the fact that I wanted unmedicated labor and delivery and I knew that would be even more of a challenge. She reassured me that we could still make that happen and that we would induce in a nice slow progression that made the process more bearable for me. I really appreciated that support and immediately felt better about the whole situation. She told me she would go ahead and call the hospital to see what things were looking like and let me know when we could schedule the induction.
After a few minutes, the doctor came back into the room. It turned out that since there was a hurricane approaching and would be hitting our town that night, all elective c-sections and inductions had to be moved to the end of the week. Since I had a medical need for induction, they were able to take me right away. She said, “He is healthy and totally ready for this. And hey, you’ll be in the safest place you could possibly be during the storm. So why don’t you go home, get situated, and head to the hospital whenever you’re ready?”
And just like that, I left my appointment knowing that we would be welcoming our baby a whole lot sooner than we would’ve thought! I hopped in the car and called Jordan right away. I said, “don’t freak out…but we’re going to have this baby today.” He was actually surprisingly calm and mostly excited. He said, “all right, let’s do this!” I got home and we finished packing up and prepping the back yard for the storm. We let all of our family know what was going on, and then called our doula, Meaghann, and had her meet us at the hospital. Even though it was all so sudden and surreal, I felt so much peace about it all. I knew God set everything up so perfectly for us for this reason, and somehow I never allowed fear to creep in.
We arrived at the hospital, checked in, and got to our labor + delivery room. I was so excited because I was able to request a room with a bathtub. My original plan was to labor at home for as long as possible, and maybe even get in our pool and/or tub because of how therapeutic water has always been for me. Knowing I would still have that option in a hospital setting was really awesome. I knew ahead of time to pack all the necessary things to make our hospital room feel comfortable and like home. So we set up battery-operated candles all around, a string of twinkle lights, my essential oil diffusor, blankets from home, and a Bluetooth speaker to play the birth playlist I had made of music that was comforting to me. All the nurses that came in and out commented on how relaxing the room felt and how much they loved our little setup. 🙂
I was set up for my IV line, tested for COVID (it was obviously negative), and the nurses assisted me with some Spinning Babies stretches and movements to help my hips open up and get things balanced for baby to make his way out. This was something I really appreciated coming from an exercise science background. It was really cool to see that they valued this body alignment in more of a clinical setting too. Finally around 9pm that evening, I was started on my first round of Cytotec, which was an oral medication to start softening my cervix that also started contractions. I went through 3 rounds of this — one dose every four hours. Needless to say, I didn’t get much sleep that first night. The contractions weren’t too strong or painful, but it did make it a little harder to sleep through.
In the morning, the nurses checked me and I had only dilated to about 1.5 cm and was around 50% effaced. This felt a little discouraging considering how many hours we had already been there, but I knew the main point of this medication was to soften the cervix, and my body was responding to it. Especially because we were starting from ground zero when we walked into the hospital. Around 11 am or noonish my OB tried to insert a Cooks Catheter (aka a Foley bulb) which is a small balloon inserted into the uterus/cervix to help you dilate. She attempted to get it to stay several times which was pretty uncomfortable, but for whatever reason and how my cervix was sitting, we couldn’t get it to stay in. Since my body had responded well to the Cytotec, she instead decided to just go ahead and start me on a low dose of Pitocin.
From there, the contractions definitely started picking up, but the intensity continued to be pretty mild. I was even able to take some short naps here and there which was nice since I had hardly gotten any sleep the night before, and I knew I was going to need all the energy I could get since we had a long way to go before the baby arrived.
At one point in the afternoon, I don’t remember exactly what time, I had gotten up to go to the bathroom. Since I was being induced, I had to keep a fetal heart rate monitor on at all times (as well as another monitor that tracked contractions). When I got back from the restroom, my nurse was in there waiting for me to check on the baby. All of a sudden there were about 3-4 more nurses in the room, and my doctor came in. They told me I needed to lay down on the bed and get on my side, and they began flipping me from side to side until they were able to find the heartbeat again. I was so scared and thrown off guard because I had no idea what had happened or what was going on. The baby ended up being absolutely fine, but apparently, when I had gotten up they noticed a deceleration in his heart rate and jumped into action. I got really emotional after that because of how scary it was, but they told me not to worry. They think it was possible that one of the contractions caused pressure on the umbilical cord or something of the sort, but that he was completely fine. We went ahead and lowered the dose of Pitocin from there and took a little “break” just to let things recover a bit before working the dosage back up.
Around 6:00 in the evening my doctor came in to break my water so we could really get things going. This was a really crazy sensation. It didn’t hurt at all…it just felt like a lot of pressure and then a big gush of warm water coming out all at once. After that, I would feel small gushes of it come out during the heavier contractions. This might sound strange, but I actually liked the feeling of it. The warmth was sort of soothing through the discomfort, and I knew that each time I felt that it was one step closer to meeting our son.
Things quickly started picking up from there and the contractions began getting stronger and stronger. Our nurse took me off of Pitocin at that point because my body kicked into full labor mode and was doing what it needed to on its own. Things were still pretty tolerable, but I could feel them starting to progress and build. Our doula, Meaghann, and Jordan would come put counter-pressure on my back and it was crazy how much that actually helped. They would also massage my back and shoulders, continue giving me water, and helped keep me relaxed. At this point, I was still able to talk and smile in between contractions and was very aware of what was going on around me. I started off just seated on the yoga ball and rocking my hips back and forth to help the baby start to engage. I was still able to just breathe through contractions at that time. As the intensity built, the breathwork almost automatically became audible and I began to moan through the contractions. We tried all sorts of positions from sitting on the birth ball and leaning over the bed, getting on all fours on top of the bed and leaning on the ball, standing and leaning on Jordan, or lunging with one leg forward and leaning on the birth ball. I ended up favoring seated on the ball and leaning my chest on the bed the most. I thought I was going to want to be much more active during labor, but I think because of the lack of sleep I didn’t have much energy to keep moving around as much as I would have thought. I do remember that lying in bed was the WORST way to deal with contractions. I only tried it at a certain point because I was so exhausted that I didn’t want to have to sit or stand anymore, but it definitely made it harder to work through the contractions. After lying through those few, I knew I had to get back up and find a more comfortable position again.
Sometime between this stage of labor and around 10 pm, I sort of lost all track of time and space. I was starting to get into a zone as things intensified, and I didn’t even know who was touching me or who was in the room. I knew that I was about to be approaching transition if I wasn’t there already, and that things were probably about to get real.
I decided to get into the shower and sit down and had Jordan take the warm shower head and spray it on my back. This felt pretty good for a little while, but it was still getting really tough. I thought maybe getting into the tub would make me feel more weightless and the waves of contractions more bearable. So, I asked my nurse if I could get into the labor tub. She said that was totally fine but that she did have to check me first to see where things were at just to make sure I wasn’t too close and at risk of having the baby in the tub.
I laid on the bed and she checked my cervix once again. I was 80% effaced, baby’s position was at -1 which is right at the threshold of where you would begin pushing (which he started at a +3, so he had made quite some progress), but I was still only 3 cm dilated. 3!!!!!!! After 24 hours of labor. I immediately LOST it, started crying and saying “I can’t do this.” I felt so defeated and discouraged that I had just labored for so many hours and was starting to be exhausted from the contractions. I thought if it took me that many hours to get to 3cm, there was no way I was going to make it through another several hours feeling the way I did. Jordan grabbed my hand and got right in my face and said, “you can do this babe. I know it’s hard but you’ve got this.” Meaghann gave me some more encouragement and told me that it was just a number, and that a lot could happen in a short period of time. She said the good news was my cervix was almost completely softened and baby was super low.
Our nurse suggested that she put me back on just a little bit of Pitocin to get the contractions going a little stronger again since they had started spacing out. She said that they would definitely get stronger, but it would do what it needed to get me dilated to the 10cm. My body probably just needed to catch up with the labor and this would make a big difference. I was definitely a little scared, but I agreed to do it if it would get me to the finish line. This was when I asked Jordan if we could pray together because I knew I was going to need unimaginable strength to get through the next stages of labor. And I knew that I could only do that by asking Jesus to walk alongside me and lend me that very strength. He most certainly did, because from that point forward it felt like I was in a whole new state of consciousness. I was just in it, allowing my body to run its course and bring our baby into our arms.
We started the Pitocin again and I got into the tub.
The warm water felt incredible and the weightless feeling you get from being submerged definitely helped me cope with the pressure. Almost immediately, things started getting very intense very fast. It felt like a huge wave taking over my body and wrapping around from my back to my belly. I started moaning louder and the breaks in between got shorter and shorter. This got me feeling pretty sick, and I ended up throwing up over the side of the tub in between contractions from there. Poor Jordan had to hold several puke bags for me because I was quickly filling them up. This was the hardest part because I wasn’t truly getting any breaks– I was either contracting or puking. And if I wasn’t puking, I was sort of dozing off. I wasn’t fully falling asleep…it’s hard to explain but I almost started dreaming. I think it was my body’s way of creating an escape and some pain relief/rest (if you can call it that). The waves kept coming on stronger and stronger. My whole body felt so overcome that all I could do was loudly moan and shake…to the point where Meaghann and Jordan were having to coach me through breathing, making sure that I would fully exhale.
I began feeling a ton of rectal pressure. I remembered the nurse telling me to let her know if I felt this because I would have to get out of the tub before I started pushing. So I let her know what I was feeling, and that it wasn’t going away between contractions. She said, “okay, if that’s the case you can get out and I can check you again if you want. But if I am being honest, you are not quite yet behaving like someone who needs to push right this minute.” I definitely didn’t want to get out of the tub only to get checked, find out I wasn’t ready yet, and have to start that mental game all over again. So I decided to wait it out and work through some more contractions in the tub.
Well, about 4-5 contractions later, I felt the most intense rectal pressure yet and my body immediately started pushing on its own. I was no longer able to moan, but only a full-blown GRUNT was coming out of me almost involuntarily. I said “I need to push. Right now. I need to push.”
My nurse said, “oh yeah, this is the behavior I was referring to. All right, let’s get you out of the tub and I wil call Dr. Chalk in here.” Jordan, Meaghann, and our nurse, Mary Beth helped me out of the tub and were drying me off with towels as I was keeled over the bed grunting and starting to push. I truly couldn’t help it.
Mary Beth laid be back down on the bed to check me. She said, “wow, girl. Your cervix is GONE, and I can see the baby’s head right now. You’re ready to push.” I had gone from 3cm to 10cm in under an hour.
All I could think was “THANK GOD” because not only did I feel like my body wouldn’t have been able to NOT push at that point, but I also knew that this was the finish line. This was it. The last stage…we were about to meet our son.
One by one more nurses came in as well as my OB, Dr. Chalk. I was lying down on the bed at an incline, and they all started coaching me through how to push. They told me to grab behind my knees and draw them up to my chest. I remember the thought of holding my own legs up felt almost impossible because I barely had any strength left in me to do that. So I had Meaghann on one side helping me hold one leg, and my nurse on the opposite side helping me hold the other. When the next contraction came, they told me to draw my knees up and back, hold my breath, tuck my chin to my chest, and push into my bottom. They would count to 10 before I would take a break to catch my breath and repeat it for 3 pushes per contraction.
Apparently the pushes were strong, because my doctor said, “Oh yeah, this baby is coming. You’re not gonna push for long at all. You’re doing amazing.”
Jordan was up by my face holding my hand and cheering me on. I could barely open my eyes during this entire phase, because I was using every ounce of my strength for each push. So I was very aware of all of the amazing encouragement everyone giving me. But out of all of the voices, Jordan’s obviously stood out the most. All I could hear was him saying “Come on babe, you got this. You’re doing amazing. I can see his head, we’re gonna meet our son.” Just the thought of this memory makes me cry, and it is one that I will never ever forget. It was a moment that forever shifted our relationship into an even deeper love that we’ve never known.
I had always heard that pushing the baby out would be super painful and that I would feel “the ring of fire.” I’m not sure if I was just numb to any pain at this point after the labor I endured, but I found pushing to be the easiest part of it all. Don’t get me wrong, it still took a ton of strength. But aside from feeling a bit of stinging as he crowned, I was pleasantly surprised at how tolerable the process felt. I think maybe being in the water and in the tub for so long might have helped since it’s possible it kept everything soft and from tearing.
Five rounds of pushes and 27 minutes later, baby boy slid out and I opened my eyes to see him being handled straight to my chest. He was here. I did it…I can’t believe I did it. Sylas Wright Hollis made his way into the world at 12:49am on August 5th, 2020. I’ll never forget how he felt…warm and squishy and oh so perfect. We kissed his sweet little head and didn’t care one bit about the fact that he hadn’t been “cleaned off” yet. I looked up at my incredible husband and we both cried as we just stared at our baby in total awe of him. He was crying loudly, was nice and pink, and he passed his APGAR with flying colors. I loved that the provider team did everything with him never leaving my chest, including his vaccinations and tests. The doctor delivered my placenta (which I honestly did not even feel whatsoever), and she gave me a couple of stitches because she said I only had a slight superficial tear. I was too in awe of our baby at this point to care, but I was definitely glad to hear how minimal it was.
We got to keep him skin to skin on my chest for an hour before they took him to be measured, weighed, etc. He was 7lbs, 5.5 oz and 19.5 inches long. Which to me was such a perfect little baby size, but it still blows my mind that he was somehow just inside of my body!
Jordan finally got to hold him after that so the nurse could help me get out of bed, make sure I used the restroom and showed me how to use mesh undies, pads, and the peri bottle for the bleeding. Once all of that was done and we packed our bags back up, they wheeled us up to the Mother-Baby floor. They got us all settled in, gave us the rundown of everything up there, and told us to get some rest. You would think I would have been able to sleep after 30 hours of labor and next to no sleep since the Monday before…but I was overcome with “new mommy” high. All I could do was stare at this bundle of true JOY all swaddled up and laying beside me in his bassinet. I wanted to just bottle up these sweet moments forever and never forget what they felt like.
The nights following Sylas’s birth, I just kept replaying the whole experience in my head. And I continue to do so today. It’s crazy how you can so vividly remember the intensity…the hard work…the emotions. But if I were to try to imagine exactly what the “pain” felt like, I couldn’t. The moment he was born, all pain was instantly gone and I could no longer even imagine the actual sensation anymore. I know this is the body’s natural way of coping and all the sweet oxytocin it produces for you. As hard as it was, I really would do it all over again. I get nostalgic as I type this story as a memory because I don’t want it to ever feel far away. We will both hold it close to our hearts as our lives are forever changed in the best way.
As for my recovery, I am SO blessed that it has been such a smooth process. I think giving birth unmedicated allowed me to feel my body and allow it to do what it needed to. I had very very little tearing or any swelling, and the bleeding has also been very moderate. Whenever the nurses would ask my pain level on a scale of 1-10, I always described it as a 1. I realize not everyone’s experience is like this, so I was definitely not expecting it but sure am grateful for it. I would absolutely go through what I did again to have the smooth recovery I’ve had, and get to enjoy these early stages with our baby as much as possible without being in too much pain myself. I have felt almost completely back to normal to the point where I’ve had to catch myself and force myself to slow down. Even if I feel great, I need to remember that I still have an internal wound from where a baby/placenta lived for 9 whole months. But I am definitely looking forward to slowly getting back into exercising and developing a new routine with our little one.
Sylas Wright, you are our world, little angel. I am so proud to be your mama and to have your daddy as my life partner. Together we are learning something new each day. We cannot wait to watch you grow…but not too fast. I’m okay with you staying a little peanut for as looooong as possible. 🙂