Winifred’s birth video is linked at the bottom of the post if you’d like to read and watch, or just watch. It’s my joy to share this story with you, as real and raw as I can remember it. I don’t believe in TMI when it comes to birth, so be aware that this is unfiltered.
I was really convinced for most of Freddie’s pregnancy that I would be overdue again. I was also very sure she was a boy since every dream I’d had about our baby was about a boy. Finally, while I fiercely hoped for the home birth we planned, I surrendered to the possibility of a hospital transfer by the end of the pregnancy.
Since I believed she would be late, it was alarming that I began experiencing regular contraction patterns every couple of nights starting around 37 weeks. I wouldn’t call it prodromal labor because it wasn’t super painful, just impossible to ignore. I would have contractions lasting about a minute every 3 to 4 minutes for several hours in the evenings. Then they would stop in the wee hours of the morning. Since I never went into labor on my own with Phoenix, I wasn’t sure what to make of these, but since they always ended and never got super painful, I tried to ignore them. It made me really impatient though. I started feeling miserable about the possibility of a 42 week gestation.
I never got super uncomfortable or swollen or any of that. I was just so tired of keeping the house clean, keeping the fridge stocked, waking up wondering if it would be today or 3 weeks from now. It was more mentally exhausting than anything.
Then, on October 24, I remember wondering as I went to meet my sister for lunch at Chick-fil-A, if I would even remember what I did the day I went into labor. Apparently, the answer is yes. She and I had lunch, and were planning to shop for my birthday (which is the 26th, and also my due date) but Phoenix wasn’t having it, so we cut our date short and put him to bed at my place. My girlfriends came over with their babies for a our weekly playdate. They asked me if I’d had any action, or if I thought labor was close. I told them no, and felt SO depressed. When they all left, I posted a picture I’d hoped to post when I went into labor. Me and my big old belly holding up a peace sign. I’d already written the caption: “Peace out baby bump. It’s baby time.” Of course, since it wasn’t baby time, I changed the caption. It said something like, “Two days till you’re due and it’s a full moon tonight, so it’s a good night to come out baby! I’m ready when you are.”
My mood was pretty low the rest of the night, and I even was grumpy with Mitch. It wasn’t about him, just about being pregnant…still. After I put Phoenix to bed, I went to the bathroom, and there was a little bit of clear gel-type stuff on the toilet paper. I knew it was some mucus plug, but I’d lost some like this several weeks earlier, and more the night before. It was always just a little bit and clear, so I honestly felt pissed. It felt like another false alarm.
Still, I texted my midwife, Rhoda, and her student midwife, Lauren.
Oct 24, 8:31 PM: Lost some mucus plug last night, a bit more just now. It’s clear, no blood and I’ve had very few toning contractions today at all. Basically I’m telling you I’ll probably have a baby in the future. Also feel free to drink.
Since my midwives are basically always on call, they seldom drink alcohol, so it was an inside joke between us that since I was going to be pregnant forever, they may as well drink.
I was trying to be light-hearted, but I was actually very discouraged. Mitch encouraged me to try using my breast pump to see if that stimulated any contractions. We were watching baseball, and I was bouncing on my birth ball pumping with a bad attitude for about 20 minutes, when my water broke everywhere! All over our brand new rug. It felt like a gallon of milk was pouring out of me. It was all clear fluid, thank goodness. As soon as I got off the rug, I texted the midwives again.
Oct 24, 10:16 PM: Water just broke. 10:15. Clear. Odorless.
I called my mom and told her I was scared to go to sleep, worried I would stall the labor or that contractions wouldn’t start. My waters broke with Phoenix, but contractions never started, which is why we had to transfer into the hospital. But she and the midwives encouraged me to go to bed, and not worry that it would be like last time.
I texted the midwives one more time before going to bed.
Oct 24, 11:04 PM: Lost a big ole glob of bloody plug. I’m contracting 5-8 minutes apart, 30 seconds long. Real but totally manageable
I contracted through the night, and was so relieved. In the early hours of the morning, I texted my crew.
Oct 25, 6:11 AM: I’m up and my mom is coming to be here when Phoenix gets up. Kristen is also on her way over. Contractions are regular and intense. Around 5 minutes apart. Lasting 30 seconds. I slept between them through the night as much as I could but was in the bathroom to poop at 3:15 and contract…lost more mucus plug. Fluid is still clear, some more bloody show. Contractions were too hard to go back to sleep or lay on my side at 5:15. Went back to the bathroom and straddled the toilet. I don’t feel like I’m in laborland/dead-to-the-world yet. Contractions are a closed-eyes situation, but between them I’m texting you, so obviously still among the non-laborers of the world.
I’m very descriptive and open with my midwives clearly.
My mom and sister were here by 7, before Mitch or Phoenix were awake. They made me breakfast, but I don’t remember eating much. I was contracting on my birth ball by my bed or swaying while leaning on our desk downstairs. Kristen recommended I get in the shower around 8:15 and that made the contractions super manageable. Water is so relieving in labor! Kristen was timing them and hanging out with Phoenix, and when I got out around 9, she said they were 2 minutes apart and lasting around a minute. I was still totally in an early labor mindset, thinking, “This is nothing compared to Phoenix’s labor. I need to get things going, or I’ll be doing this all day and night, and end up sharing a birthday with this baby.”
The midwives wanted an update, so I settled onto my birth ball in the living room and told Kristen to text them my contraction pattern. Mitch was in the kitchen getting breakfast and hanging out with Phoenix. Not even with me. We were both on the same page, thinking I was still in very early, manageable labor.
But the midwives told Kristen they were coming over and that Mitch should start filling the birth pool. I was so shocked! I knew I was nowhere near the intensity of Phoenix’s labor, and was worried they were going to arrive and tell me we’d called too early. I was convinced the pool was going to be freezing by the time I got in it.
Still, the midwives and my doula arrived at 9:30 and contractions were definitely intense. They still felt pretty far apart to me though. Everyone got my birth room set up in the baby’s nursery upstairs, and then suggested I head upstairs and try laboring on the toilet for a bit just after 10 am. As soon as I moved to head upstairs, the contractions were more intense, and my first contractions on the toilet sent me into a tailspin. I immediately needed a puke bucket and started dry heaving through every contraction. My midwife says that’s just how the Pitocin hormone in my system works. It’s an ejection hormone, so I feel like ejecting from both sides apparently. After about 20 minutes, it was so intense, I asked if the pool was ready. I couldn’t believe how fast things had gone from mild to batshit crazy. They asked to check me first, and I was nervous. I didn’t want to be at 2cm and have to go back to the toilet for hours. I consented though, and told them not to tell me my progress, just whether I could or couldn’t get in the water. Mitch and the doulas helped me move to my bed and Rhoda checked me. I was so relieved when she said I could get in the water!
She told Mitch and my sister privately that I was already 8cm dilated. I got in and felt instant relief, but after a few contractions in the water I really wanted to push. Rhoda checked again and said I had a cervical lip, so I should wait to push for a few more contractions to see if it would dissolve. I HATE waiting to push. I had to wait for the same reason with Phoenix. I was hanging over the side of the pool in a squat, dry heaving into my bucket and asking the midwife “if it was possible to vomit out my baby.” and finally couldn’t stop myself from pushing, so Rhoda had me rotate into a reclining position in the pool. When she checked again, she said the lip was almost gone, and that on the next contraction she would hold it with her finger while I pushed to see if we could get the baby’s head past the cervix, and we did! I think that’s when they charted the start of my official pushing phase.
It felt so much more intense than with Phoenix. I had memories that came back, and it made me reluctant to push. I couldn’t not push, but I was scared to give it my all because it was so intense. I made much more noise, and I know it slowed my progress a bit, because I was spending energy moaning instead of putting all of it where it counts. I pushed for over 40 minutes with Phoenix. In the hospital with him, I was being touched by everyone, and I demanded silence, so I was also silent. I was also given a lot of time to push, so I acclimated slower to the intensity. With this birth, I pushed for half the time, and it felt like she was coming fast and hard. I felt less sure of what was happening, how long it was going to take, and how much worse it was going to get. I was holding Mitch’s hand so tight, and Rhoda was checking often for the baby’s progress, but besides that no one was touching me, bracing me, holding me steady. It was all me. So amazing, but so different than with Phoenix. This labor brought me to the edge, and then we just kept going further.
And yet, I did get long breaks between the contractions and pushing. I don’t know whether that made it better or worse. In some ways, I felt like I had to surrender all over again with every push cycle because I had time to breathe between.
In the midst of the emotional and physical skydive I was experiencing, I did reach inside to feel her head several times before she crowned. Feeling her head for the first time, only centimeters away from crowning, was the most reassuring and grounding sensation. It took away the fear and reminded me what I was doing. It sounds crazy, but for a moment I felt so detached from the baby, from the fact that I was giving birth. I was just being completely overcome by the insanity that is my birth canal becoming an entrance to the world, but feeling the baby brought me back.
I’m so glad, because I told my midwife ahead of time that I wanted to help deliver my baby, and definitely hold him or her while they crowned and entered the world, but in the moment I was using my hands to lift my body and brace myself, so it didn’t feel like I could reach down to the baby. I said through gritted teeth “I can’t move.” But Rhoda grabbed my hand to help me, and I’m so grateful. After I birthed her head, I braced myself for one last push, and as her shoulders cleared the opening, I was able to reach down again and hold her as she came the rest of the way.
I was holding onto her for the final push and pulled her right to my chest as she was born. She was wide-eyed and I wasn’t afraid at all. We’d done it. We didn’t know her gender, so I looked and saw she was a girl, and everything in me exploded. I didn’t know until that moment how badly I wanted her, how much I’d missed her my whole life, and how relieved I was that she was finally here, finally home.
Phoenix came running in and Mitch told him he had a sister. I felt like every molecule in the air was infused with magic.
She snuggled on me for a few minutes, and then it was time to get out of the pool and birth the placenta. I nursed as my doula fed me soup, and the midwife saw there was a perfect knot in her cord. So cool! The placenta came with hardly an effort, and then they told me I could get into my herbal bath. I assume while I was in there everyone got the mess cleared away, because I never saw it again after the birth.
My dad and younger sister arrived minutes after Freddie was born, so they got to come up and meet her when she was only minutes old.
After our bath, the midwives examined me for tears, and I was totally intact so I needed no repair work. My doula was incredible. She just held me through the examination, and while they pressed on my uterus. She told me that she saw me. I wasn’t alone. Yes it was painful, but everything looked perfect and healthy. They helped me pee the first time and it was painless. I was sore and started experiencing intense afterpains as they examined Winifred, but overall I couldn’t believe how active and capable I felt. They weighed and measured her while I ate. I started taking Ibuprofen for the pain, and it worked well.
Within an hour of giving birth, Winifred and I were snuggled up downstairs in an armchair while everyone ate soup and visited. Our midwives hugged and kissed us, then left, and I couldn’t believe it was all over…by lunch.
Time has been blurry since then. A constant rotation of friends and family bringing us meals, playing with Phoenix, sweeping our floors, doing our laundry. Postpartum is like a dream state, with incredible highs of love and wonderment, and some extreme lows when anxiety and the unfamiliar take hold, with no real rhythm or routine to hold it all. It’s loose and unstructured.
I’m so grateful for every person who has taken notice, made us feel seen, celebrated with us, and pitched in, acknowledging that a huge shift has taken place. New life has burst into our reality, and in her quiet and sleepy way, she’s brought us to the brink, shattered what was normal, and begun life anew for us.
Welcome to the world Winifred Anne Darling. Our longing for you is at an end. You’re here. You’re real. We’re utterly wrecked and totally in love with you.
Thanks so much to my sister, Kristen, for these photos and the video footage from this day. It’s perfectly raw and unfiltered. While I love professional birth photography and videography, I wouldn’t have preferred these moments captured any other way.