Clara's Birth Story
From Clara's Perspective...
I’ve been waking up at 4:30am the last couple days.
I get up. I eat something, then go back to bed and to sleep.
Pregnancy up to this point had been relatively uneventful. Just the normal discomfort and complaints. A little heartburn. A little sciatic pain. A little fatigue. No serious complications or issues.
But in this last week or so the discomfort has gotten to the level where I was doubting I could handle 2 more weeks of it without giving up on doing anything productive and doing nothing but binge watching Netflix on the couch.
So, this morning I was up, begrudgingly getting out of bed to eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich that would inevitably give me terrible heartburn. As I rolled my pregnant belly to one side to struggle to sit upright I felt a gush of water come out of my nether regions and realized that the bed underneath my torso was wet.
I initially thought to myself, “Great. New pregnancy low. I am now peeing myself.”
Baby Alma wasn’t due to come for another two and half weeks or so. It couldn’t be my water breaking…. could it?
I got downstairs and notice that the wetness keeps coming as I move. I eat my sandwich (I truly was ravenous) thinking a little more clearly and starting to realize that something out of the ordinary was definitely going on.
I walked back upstairs. Feeling the familiar heat of heart burn. I start to feel the acid reflux come up and I’m gagging already. I run to the bathroom off of our bedroom and bend over the toilet and vomit. As the vomit comes out my mouth, about a cup of water gushes out the other end.
Ok.. my water broke or something is seriously off.
I clean myself up. Put a towel down on my side of the bed and climb into bed with my phone, googling “What does it feel like when your water breaks?” As I’m reading whatever comes up on google, I tap Sean to wake him up and tell him “I think my water broke.”
He perks right up looking excited and says, “I just had a dream that you gave birth and it was really easy.”
We both google around for a bit on our phone and other than feeling a little wet and the now normal uncomfortable pregnant, I feel good, albeit tired.
We decide to go back to sleep until around 8am and call our midwife, Kayla then.
So we go back to sleep. Waking back up at 7:30am and call Kayla. I tell her the story and she says “That’s a pretty convincing water breaking story. I’d say you’re going to have a baby today. Happy birth day! Call me back around 11:30am. Rest and eat as much as you can.”
Sean starts to cry. Just those silent happy type tears. He’s so excited. I’m touched.
I had been preparing for this day for months at this point. Going to the chiropractor and acupuncturist weekly. I’d read probably 12 books on pregnancy, birth and child rearing. I had taken my morning mindfulness practice very seriously and had not missed a meditation for my entire pregnancy. I was ready.
But… I hadn’t packed my birth bag or written a birth plan. Those just always seemed like something I could do closer to the due date.
So I furiously made a list of “necessary” birth bag supplies and Sean started going around the house getting all of it together.
He made me a waffle. I begrudgingly ate it.
We called my parents. My mom asked if I’d had any contractions. I said, “Not really.. just feels like period cramps.” And she said, “But do they start and stop? Or do you just have them the whole time?” “They start and stop.” I said. “Those are contractions then,” she said.
From about 8am to 10:30am, I hung out upstairs in the bedroom. Trying to rest but also feeling excited and apprehensive, and still not totally convinced this whole thing was happening.
At 10:30am I had my first “real” contraction and the only word I can think to describe it is INTENSE.
If you’ve ever taken acid, mushrooms, or some other psychotropic substance there is a point at which the drug starts to kick in and, in my experience, it is right then that you can decide to have a “good” trip or a “bad” trip. That INTENSE contraction at 10:30am was the point at which I felt I had a decision to make.
This whole birth experience could be a “good” trip or it could be a “bad” trip. Which one was I going to choose?
I started to feel my perception change. Colors looked brighter. Time seemed irrelevant. Normal, every day things like the bedspread took on a supernatural quality. Textures felt different and wild. Smells were amplified even more.
I’m listening to music and I am so engrossed in the Movement by Hozier. Swaying back and forth and, telepathically, conversing with Alma about how I was going to “dance” her out. Telling her we got this and it’s going to be easy.
Repeating a mantra I had been saying my whole pregnancy, “Pregnancy is the labor, the birth will be easy.”
I lean over the bed.
I go sit on the toilet.
I dance a little bit.
Sean came upstairs and comforted me. He suggested we call Kayla. Making decisions seemed impossible. I said OK.
We called Kayla. She asks me about my contractions. I don’t really remember talking to her or what I said. It all seemed surreal and unnecessary.
She says I should eat something. That sounds impossible.
When we get off the phone, Sean is trying to ask me what I want to eat, but that seems like a question I could never answer. Who can think about something like food?
I start to realize that we are going to need to get in the car soon if we are going to get the birth center before I have this baby.. but I also can’t imagine being in a car.
Sean brings me up a bowl macaroni and cheese.
I make a face. Like “HOW COULD I POSSIBLY EAT RIGHT NOW?”
After a little bit of trying to coax me to eat the mac and cheese, Sean realizes that it’s time to switch gears.
His coaxing changes from getting me to eat, to getting me to get in the car.
I also feel like we need to get in the car, but I just can’t imagine it.
I’m starting to need to vocalize my contractions and I hear myself yelling and moaning. It’s a strange thing to observe myself as I move through each wave of intensity.
There is finally enough space between contractions for me to go downstairs and get in the car.
I see our dog Ooli sitting in the sunshine on the front steps. He gives me a look that says, “When you get back home, nothing will be the same.”
I’m struck by the truth of it.
I start out in the front seat, on all fours, head facing the back seat. I’m so uncomfortable. Just want to move. I make Sean pull over so I can get in the back seat.
He calls Kayla and Whitney (our doula) and letting them know we’re on our way.
I start to feel like I’m going to puke. I look around the car for something to puke in, but again, my brain is so not in the physical world I can’t imagine what one would use to puke in.
I ask Sean to pull over. I struggle out of the car.
Just to paint the picture:
A very pregnant woman. Dressed in nothing but a black robe. Bare foot. At noon on a Saturday. Holding on to the door of car pulled over on a dirt road. Puking. Wild look in her eye.
I remember a white pick up passing us and thinking, “I wonder what they think is going on.”
I get back in the car. The carseat is installed behind the driver side seat and I’m on a fours, arms and head in the carseat.
I have no idea how I’m going to make the hour long car ride. Good thing I don’t have any concept of time.
I drop back in to the experience of the contractions.
As one builds up, I start to yell. Since I can’t move around positioned the way I am in the car, moaning, yelling and shaking my head seem to be the only way I can process the intensity rippling through my body.
Sean is reporting to me about how much time we have left at regular intervals.
Whenever I do get a break from the intense waves of contractions…
I look at the mountains and think about how grateful I am to live in this beautiful place called Montana.
I repeat to myself a mantra, “I am the portal for all life into this dimension.” I feel so empowered by this statement, like I’m connected to all women, in all times and all places. We are the portals of all life into this dimension.
I talk to Alma and tell her how much I am ready for this and her.
When the contractions build, I move as much as I can and start to rock back and forth. I blow air through my lips making a vibration sound. I’m obsessed with the idea that if I keep my lips and jaw loose that will keep my cervix open and loose. So I just keep doing it.
Sean tells me I’m doing good. Sean tells me I’ve got this. And I don’t know what else to do but trust him. He sounds like he knows.
As I start to feel the pressure in my pelvis increase I’m realizing that Alma is coming.
My body wants to start pushing and it feels like the largest poop ever is about to come. It feels impossible that the size of the thing in my pelvis could ever come out of my body, but I assure myself it is Alma and that she will come out because she has to come out.
I’m sweaty and shakey. During a brief break between contractions (the breaks are getting much, much shorter) I tear off my robe and grab a towel and shove it between my legs.
Sean announces we have 10 more minutes and all the sudden I do care how much more time, as I’m not sure I can keep her in that much longer.
Those last 10 minutes felt like one long contraction. The vocalizations coming out of my body become deeper, more guttural as my body pushes for me. It’s a bone deep, primal instinct. It feels animal.
When we finally get to the birth center. I somehow get my robe back on (miracle!) and bee line it for the front doors. I go straight to the birthing room. I sit on the toilet. I take my robe back off and sit there naked. Grunting.
Kayla asks me if I’d like to get in the shower. I move to the shower. Sean comes in to comfort me. He’s fully clothed. I see his shoes, standing in the shower, and think how strange this is. I’m naked, under the water and he has shoes on.
I have to keep moving. I get out of the shower.
I start to squat. Feeling the extreme pelvis pressure and continuing the deep, deep grunting.
Kayla is whipping around the room getting stuff ready. It’s obvious she didn’t expect this, but doesn’t seem phased.
She starts the bath tub.
Kayla’s giving me cues. “Relax the skin between your eyebrows.” “Press into the pressure.” “Ok. That one is over. Relax. Breathe.” I’m so grateful for these cues. They give me something to focus on.
The tub is full and I get in.
I recline back. Feeling the relief of a new position. The relief of being out of the car.
One push. Relax the skin between your eyebrows. Press into the pressure. Breathe.
Another push. Kayla says, “Look at that head of hair!”
One more push. A higher pitched grunt from me. Relax the skin between your eyebrows. Push into the pressure. Breathe.
A little body, covered in white vernix, is put on my chest. She’s crying. I’m crying. Sean’s crying.
Everything has changed and nothing will ever be the same.
From Sean's Perspective...
The room is dark and the midwife and I stand in the corner watching Clara grunt and strain on the other side of the room. She is squatting and breathing and appears to be in a deep trance. "Let her do her thing," the midwife says to me. Moments later a baby pops out onto the floor. Her skin is blue and she lays there on the floor several feet away from Clara. We pick her up and hold her, and slowly the blue fades away and her skin takes on a healthy flesh color.
I wake up at 4:30 am and Clara is sitting up next to me in bed on her phone. "I think my water broke," she says. She wasn't sure. It wasn't much but she woke up feeling like she either wet the bed or her water had broken. She'd been up googling what it meant. I took out my phone and googled it as well. It seemed pretty clear that it probably had, but also wasn't an urgent situation, so we decided to wait until 7:30 to call the midwife. I stay up with her for a bit and then manage to go back to sleep for a while, thinking I might need it for the day that lies ahead.
I wake up again at 7:30 to Clara dialing Kayla (our midwife). Clara explains what's been happening and Kayla responds, "Yea, that sounds like a pretty convincing water-breaking story. Sounds like you're going to have a baby today. Try to get some more sleep and eat some food and call me back around 11:30, unless you need to call earlier. Happy Birthday!"
I look at my phone and see a couple emails from our realtor. My brother had put in an offer the day before on a house just up the road from us yesterday, and it's been accepted. They'll be moving from Colorado to just up the road from us in a matter of weeks. It's going to be a big day. I call my brother, then my Dad. My Mom is sleeping, so we Facetime with her later. Clara calls her family.
Clara and I both are still in a state of denial. It's 2 and a half weeks before the due date, and while we are about as prepared as anyone can be, neither of us expected her to come so soon. There's still a lack of urgency. Kayla asked us to call her back in four hours. We had read and heard plenty about how long labor is and to try to stay home for as much of it as possible. Clara has barely noticed a contraction.
I volunteer to start getting things ready. We had planned on doing more preparation, preparing more food, writing a birth plan, reviewing our books and other materials. But generally everything was ready: lists were made, important items were in our possession, car seat was installed. I ask Clara what she wants to eat and she begrudgingly agrees to eat a waffle. I make us waffles as I start to pack a cooler and bags for the birth center and our air bnb afterwards. The birth center is an hour away in Bozeman and we'll have to stay in town for a 24 and 72-hour checkup.
Around 10:30 Clara says in the middle of a contraction, "I think if this gets any worse, the car ride is going to suck". The metric the midwife gave us for coming in was when the contractions get to the point where if they get any worse the car ride is really going to suck. I suggest either going in now or calling Kayla sooner. The contraction passes and we wait until a little after 11:00 to call. We call Kayla and give her an update. A contraction comes and goes while we are on the phone. Clara is silent through it, bending over the bed and breathing. Kayla advises us to try to eat as much as possible and call her back afterwards and see how Clara is feeling.
I talk her into macaroni and cheese and go make her a bowl as I start to pack the car, knowing it's about time to leave. I bring a bowl up to the room to give her. She's in the bathroom, coping with her waves. There doesn't seem to be nearly enough break to have any chance of getting her to eat. So I shift gears and start telling her we need to get in the car the next break she gets. It takes a while, but eventually we get downstairs into the car. Clara puts the front seat down and gets in on all fours with her head toward the back seat, audibly coping with her waves. Ooli (our dog) gives us a very troubled look as we get in the car and drive away at 11:50 am.
A few minutes into the drive, I grab Clara's phone to call Kayla and let her know "it was apparent we needed to leave" and that we would be there in 45-50 minutes. I call Whitney (our doula) and tell her the same. She suggests letting Clara in the back seat to move around more comfortably. A few minutes later Clara asks me to pull over. She gets out of the car and throws up on the side of the county road. A white pickup truck passes. She gets in the back seat on all fours and resumes some of her breathing, moaning and grunting. I start driving again and get stuck behind the white pickup. He's going too slow, so I pass him. A couple minutes later Clara needs to stop again. I pull over and she throws up on the side of the road. The white truck passes again.
We get back in the car and get on the interstate. Clara is on all fours in the backseat alternating rapidly between different coping mechanisms: grunting, horse lips, cussing loudly. I'm passing semis, trying not to go too fast around corners, but trying to get there ASAP. There doesn't seem to be much rest between waves. Twenty seconds of rest are followed by another 30 seconds of coping noises, and back and forth through the first forty minutes of the one-hour drive.
Twenty minutes from the birth center I give her an update, "20 minutes away, Bear, you're doing awesome". I've been trying to reassure or cheer her on throughout the drive, unsure of what to say, what is going on, or how to convey any real confidence. She sits up a little and gasps "Oh shit!". The kind of "Oh shit" you might say if you start to crap your pants on the way to the bathroom. "15 minutes, we're almost there," I say. She's lost her robe by now and is half naked on all fours cursing as I pass more cars on the interstate on the way into Bozeman.
We pull into the parking lot of the birth center. Clara stumbles in ahead of me and back towards the birthing room. Kayla comes out with a smile on her face, "you made it in." Clara walks right by her, maybe muttering something I didn't hear. "It was a tough drive," I tell Kayla, not knowing what else to say. Clara goes in and bends over in front of the toilet. Kayla runs to get gloves, now with a more serious facial expression, and takes a look. "Oooh. This is going to be interesting," she says before going to her cell phone to call someone in.
She starts a tub and starts preparing the room, as I clumsily shift back and forth between trying to comfort Clara and trying to bring in and unpack the bags of totally irrelevant birthing amenities (speaker, essential oil diffuser, homeopathic remedies) we had packed to have during the birth. Clara gets in the tub and Kayla starts giving her instructions, breathing, visualizations, etc. I try to take cues from her, put pressure on her lower back, hold her hand through waves.
Moments later Clara is reclined in the tub. Though we've only been there for 15 minutes, I've managed to deduce that the baby is at the door, ready to come any moment. Kayla gives me a quick rundown of how to "help" catch. There is one wave, one push. Kayla comments on the head of dark hair. Clara remembers our joke that Alma was going to come out Mexican, laughs and repeats it to me. A second push, and the head comes out. I ready my hands around her head. Kayla coaches her into her third push, and as Clara's yell gets more high pitched than it had been, Kayla helps me grab little Alma as she comes out, spinning her around and passing her to Clara. Clara looks at her and looks at us with the widest eyes and mouth. A look of overwhelming joy, shock and relief. Clara holds Alma on her chest and starts crying. I start crying. Laughing and crying.
I run out to the car to get my phone and take a picture. When I leave the room I run into Whitney. She had just arrived and waited outside as she could hear what was going on when she got there and didn't want to interrupt. I give her the biggest hug I think I've ever given anyone. I was overflowing with joy. She said she had a camera, so I forgot about the phone and went back inside. I went back by Clara's side, and sat with her as they got acclimated and checked some vitals. Alma's skin looked a dark purple and she was covered in vernix. Moments later, I'm cutting the umbilical cord. They pass Alma to me for some skin to skin contact. I sit on the bed with her in my arms and look down at her as her skin slowly turns from the dark purple to a healthy flesh color.