I've known Dalton since junior high, but after meeting his wonderful wife Allison and after learning a little about their journey to conceive (thanks facebook!) I was giddy at the idea of documenting their daughter's birth for them. THEN! After learning that Allison is a photographer, and a fantastic writer, we basically became BFFs. I knew Allison would share the story of her daughter's birth better than I ever could, so it's no surprise that I was in tears half way through reading it. Grab some tissues, because there will be tears.
When my husband and I first decided we wanted a family, it didn’t even cross my mind that we might have trouble conceiving. It soon became clear that it wasn’t going to be as simple as we hoped. But after four years of heartbreak that threatened to cause us to lose all hope, our miracle baby made her presence known with a little pink line.
From that point on, every decision we made revolved around my growing belly. We knew we wanted a natural birth, so we began researching different birthing classes to see which would be the best fit for us. We eventually settled on The Bradley Method after hearing positive stories from friends.
For those who don’t know, The Bradley Method teaches women and their partners to birth naturally by educating them with an in-depth look at birth and giving them tools to create a calm, peaceful experience. The classes were incredible and taught my husband and I so much more than we ever would have learned on our own. He learned how to support and guide me, which is one thing we loved the most about this method - it allows for a much more intimate, supportive experience than most other methods.
By the last month of my pregnancy, we knew we were as ready as we could possibly be. We anxiously awaited the day when labor would begin, and it did in my 39th week. This is our birth story.
On May 27th, I kissed my husband goodbye as he left for the gym, and decided to take a nap. I wasn’t even tired but something in me said, “Hey, you know what? You should really sleep for a while.” I woke up about an hour later to use the restroom and as I was sitting there, I felt what I can only describe as an elastic snap in my belly - it even caused it to ripple on the outside! At first I thought my little girl had simply nailed me with a kick, which she was known to do, but then the trickling began. I said, “Oh my God,” about ten times before getting myself together enough to grab a towel so I could get to my phone. I called my husband twice while standing in the bathtub, and thankfully he called back shortly after. “You should come home. My water broke,” I told him, surprisingly calmly. His excitement was obvious and he said he would be home in ten minutes.
Because I had tested positive for Group B Strep at my last prenatal appointment, I knew we would have to leave immediately for the hospital so I could be given IV antibiotics. I slipped on a pair of Depends (laugh all you want) and busied myself with grabbing last minute things for the hospital that couldn’t be packed ahead of time. I was shaking like a leaf as reality sank in with each passing minute. We were having a baby! Like, soon. When he got home, we hugged, cried and laughed, and loaded up the car.
My contractions started on the way to the hospital, and they were anything but the mild contractions we were expecting in early labor. They were immediately impossible to talk through, coming every three minutes. By the time we were checked in and I was being examined, they were two minutes apart and I was about five centimeters dilated. The nurse offered to get me a peanut-shaped birthing ball to sit on, which I gratefully accepted.
This whole part of my labor is a blur because it was happening so fast that all I could do was focus on making it through the next contraction. I straddled the birthing ball and rocked back and forth, vocalizing in pain as I did my best to remain relaxed and calm. “Remember what you learned in class,” I told myself. My husband was amazing. He timed each contraction, telling me when I hit the thirty-second mark so I would know they wouldn’t continue to grow in intensity. It gave me something to hold on to. You can do anything for thirty seconds, right? Even though they lasted much longer than that, the intensity dwindled enough for me to relax before the next wave would hit.
About an hour after being admitted, I began to feel “pushy” and asked that my cervix be checked. I was seven to eight centimeters dilated, and by this point it was impossible for me to leave the bed. The contractions were causing a horribly painful gripping sensation in my back, which may have been caused by the pressure of her head as she made her way lower. I started to panic, feeling like I wanted to escape my own body. My doctor arrived and I was in the middle of a contraction that caused me to push involuntarily, so she checked me again to find I was almost fully dilated. Transition was almost complete, but I was wrought with fear and completely overwhelmed by the pain.
It was at that moment I knew that if I couldn’t find a way to cope, I wouldn’t be present mentally for the birth of my baby. I uttered the words I promised myself I never would, and within less than a minute, the anesthesiologist showed up at my bedside, telling me he didn’t know if there would be time, but he would do his best. He told me he would give me a mild version of an epidural so I would still be able to move my legs and feel my contractions, but that I would be more comfortable.
The epidural was placed very quickly and smoothly, and all the while my nurse was pushing down on my shoulders to keep my back curved while I screamed through a contraction. She helped me lie down when it was over and several more waves hit before the medication began to take effect. Somehow the pain still gripped my left side with the same intensity, but at that point my doctor was telling me it was time to push. Thankfully, when I began pushing the medication dispersed properly and the pain was manageable.
“She has so much hair!” my doctor exclaimed, asking me if I wanted a mirror so I could watch the birth. I’m so glad I said yes. I watched my baby crown while breathing through “the ring of fire,” blowing small breaths so I wouldn’t tear. She was on her side rather than anterior, which might account for the pain I felt in my back. Her head came out and then her shoulders, and I watched my little girl make her entrance into the world after a four hour labor and forty-five minutes of pushing.
When she was placed on my chest I was hit with a tidal wave of love and awe. She grabbed her daddy’s finger and wouldn’t let go, her tiny cries piercing the air with her first breath. I looked into the face of our daughter and wept with relief and joy. She was finally here, and suddenly, in that moment, nothing else in the world existed but our little family.
Birth is something that changes you. I don’t feel like I’m the same person I was a week ago, but I mean that in the best way. I feared that if I couldn’t stick to my plan, I would somehow feel less empowered by my birth experience. I’m happy to say I feel completely empowered, and while it didn’t go according to plan, I suppose that’s just my first lesson in motherhood - to adapt, compromise, and grow.
Thank you so much, Stephanie, for capturing this day for us. We are eternally grateful to have these images to reflect on in the years to come. -Allison