I can’t believe that Julian is officially one month old! The last few weeks as a family of four have flown by and it feels like yesterday that he was making his debut. He arrived at 4:25am on Tuesday October 4 after 9.5 hours of unmedicated labor. I promise I’m not crazy 😛
Let’s rewind a bit. My first pregnancy fell during the thick of the pandemic: shutdowns, masks, social distancing, constant testing, partners not allowed at appointments– there was so much unknown and the rules were always changing. After a terrible scare at 20 weeks, my pregnancy was deemed high risk and I had to see an MFM for regular ultrasounds up until Nate’s arrival. Having doctors tell you they aren’t sure what they are seeing and not knowing if your baby is going to be born healthy is something I wouldn’t wish on anyone.
In the end, I was blessed with a physically healthy pregnancy, an overall positive hospital birth experience and most importantly a happy healthy baby. But every moment up until the second Nate was placed on my chest had been filled with stress, anxiety and fear. As soon as we found out we were expecting again, I knew that I wanted this pregnancy and birth to be different.
The first step in doing that was opting to see a midwife vs a OBGYN. I went to a traditional large OBGYN practice my first pregnancy and remember feeling completely unheard at all my appointments (always with a different doctor) and that I was nothing more than a number on a chart. My care during my first pregnancy really opened my eyes to the completely backwards, overly-medicalized way pregnancy and birth is treated in the United States. This time I wanted to find a provider that had a more hands-off, holistically-minded approach and it was clear that a midwife was the best option for me.
I also decided that as long as my pregnancy was deemed low risk, I didn’t want to give birth at a hospital. I won’t lie– it took some convincing to get Nick on board with the idea. Hospital births are pretty much the standard in the US and since we’d had a positive experience at Nate’s birth, why not just do the same again? Thankfully Nashville is home to the region’s only standalone, out-of-hospital birth center: Vanderbilt Birth Center. It checked all of my boxes: staffed by midwives, personalized prenatal care, a no-intervention approach to birth, located separate from a hospital with beautiful, home-like birthing suites. It also checked Nick’s box: top-notch medical care affiliated with a renowned hospital.
My experience at all my appointments this pregnancy felt like night and day. I never felt rushed, pressured or judged and was always given time to ask questions. I had an appointment during my first trimester where the only purpose was to discuss my diet, mental health and physical activity– nothing medical. I remember asking my midwife, “Wait, this is all you want to talk about today? You guys actually care about this stuff??” LOL. Overall all my prenatal appointments were very laidback and hands-off, which was a breath of fresh air compared to my first pregnancy.
As expected, my October 2nd due date came and went. I had Nate at 40 weeks 5 days so I was 100% mentally prepared to go late with Julian as well. I had an appointment with my midwife the morning after my due date (a Monday) and at the time was showing 0 signs of labor and felt for sure I’d be pregnant for at least another few days. She offered me an optional cervical check and a membrane sweep, but I declined both and felt confident that my body would do its thing when Julian was ready.
Well it turns out Julian decided he was ready later that evening. I started feeling mild sporadic contractions in the afternoon that steadily became more uncomfortable by 7-8PM. I remember having to stop and focus on my breathing while we were putting Nate down for bed and Nick being like, “omg is it really happening this fast?!” My early labor with Nate had been a slow 24+ hour crawl and while we knew that this time things were likely to happen faster, we were still taken by surprise at the quick progression and consistency of my contractions.
We called my midwives around 9PM to get their thoughts on if/when we should come in to the birth center. My contractions had continued getting closer and more intense and I had started laboring in our bath tub for pain relief and to help myself relax. Based on what I was experiencing, they told us it was time so we packed up the last of our things and called our nanny so she could come over to watch Nate. Part of me had hoped I’d go into labor during the day so we could say goodbye to him, but ultimately I’m glad he was asleep because I think I would’ve been wayyyy too emotional.
I remember the car ride to the hospital during my first labor feeling like complete torture. It was one aspect of birth that I really had been dreading, but thankfully it ended up being not as uncomfortable as I’d anticipated. I just continued breathing through my contractions trying my best to maintain a calm mindset. I think it helped a lot knowing that we were heading to a place where I knew I’d feel safe and comfortable. When we arrived at the birth center, my midwives were already waiting for us at the door and we were quickly ushered in to one of the birthing suites. A few minutes later my doula Anna also arrived.
I’m incredibly sensitive to my surroundings (lights, sounds, smells, colors, strangers’ energy) and remember feeling such a heightened sense of fear and anxiety at the hospital during Nate’s birth. Looking back, I was definitely in fight or flight. Walking into the birthing suite, I immediately felt such a sense of peace. The lights were dimmed, a diffuser was on and the bathtub was filled with warm water. It was as if we’d never left home.
Right away I was able to jump back in to my deep breathing and continue working through my contractions. I was shocked when my midwives told me I was already 6cm dilated! I barely made it to 3.5cm my first labor before asking for an epidural, so hearing that I was more than halfway to 10cm gave me such a confidence boost. Like OK I can do this.
Can you get an epidural at a birth center? I got flooded with this question after revealing that Julian’s birth was unmedicated. Answer: nope. At least not where I gave birth. A lot of you are probably wondering why I, or anyone, would want to go through labor without having the option for pain relief, especially considering I’d utilized it successfully during my first birth.
There were a few different reasons why I was drawn to an unmedicated birth.
The primary reason was my desire to give birth outside of a traditional hospital setting and be cared for by professionals whose #1 goal was for me to have an intervention-free birth. From the moment I saw the labor suites at the birth center, I was sold. The rooms were so peaceful and home-like and truly made me feel excited to give birth. Unmedicated births are the bread and butter of the midwives and nurses at the birth center and I felt from the beginning that everyone was on “my team” and that my birth plan would be fully supported.
At the hospital, there’s really no way to know in advance what you’re going to experience. Is the OB and nurses on call going to be supportive of an unmedicated birth? Will I be forced to push laying on my back? Would I be pressured to get Pitocin, other interventions, etc. if they felt I wasn’t progressing fast enough? Would there even be a room available where I could labor in the tub or shower? Would I be allowed to eat real food? I could list so many other common hospital birth practices and scenarios I knew I didn’t want to encounter for this birth.
I also just had a lot more confidence in myself as a second time mom knowing my body had already given birth once and that statistically my labor would go a lot faster. Another reason is I wanted a quick recovery.
I want to say we arrived at the birth center around 10:30PM and for the next 5ish hours I labored through my contractions with the support of Nick and my doula Anna. To keep things moving along, Anna had me change positions every 30 minutes or so. I would go from the labor tub to the bed where I got on my knees and laid with my belly against this large triangular pillow. I also found sitting on the toilet to be incredibly relieving and a great place to breathe through a contraction LOL.
One thing that surprised me was that I somehow was able to truly relax and even fall asleep in between contractions. Prior to going into labor, i’d listened to a ton of podcasts and positive birth stories where moms who gave birth unmedicated mentioned how with the right deep breathing and relaxation techniques they were actually able to sleep during the late phases of labor. It sounded completely crazy to me and I thought there was no way I could do that because 1) I’m a total wimp about pain and 2) I’m a naturally very anxious person. But it happened! Nick told me that when I was probably 8cm+ dilated there was a period of 15+ minutes where I dozed off between contractions and that he and Anna were like, wait how is she sleeping through this right now??
My contractions continued to gain intensity and eventually got to the point where I really was only have a minute or so break in between. Having Anna there to apply counter pressure to my hips and back was everything. No matter what type of birth you’re planning, I’d highly recommend hiring a doula if you’re able to. I didn’t have one with my first birth and wish I did because 1) they can act as your voice and ensure your birth plan is being followed and 2) they’re experts at providing support during childbirth for both mom AND dad. Overall Anna added such a calm presence to my birth experience. Throughout my labor she was there making sure all my needs were met and offering helpful suggestions (she’s literally attended hundreds of births.) She also acted as a guide/mentor for Nick and made sure he was involved and felt included.
After a few hours of laboring, I remember feeling like time was passing so slowly and even got a little frustrated that I wasn’t progressing faster. I asked one of my midwives why things weren’t happening faster especially since I was a second time mom and had in my head that labor would be quick and her saying to me, “I know you feel like this is going slowly but I promise you it’s going much faster than you think and you’re making amazing progress.”
From that point on I tried to get the idea of time out of my head and just kept telling myself that every contraction was one step closer to meeting my baby. They continued to gain intensity and eventually got to the point where I really only had a minute or so break in between. By then I’d gone totally primal– moaning low tones, crouching on the bed on all fours and I couldn’t have cared less about who was seeing me basically naked. It’s true that during birth all your inhibitions go out the window. I’m a very modest person– aka the girl that changes in the bathroom stall at the gym because God forbid anyone sees my underwear. During birth? GET THESE CLOTHES OFF ME.
One thing that I had prepared for with unmedicated labor that ended up happening a lot differently was the transition phase. This phase of labor is when you progress from 8-10cm dilation, just before it’s time to push. Transition is typically very noticeable and intense, but also short (under 30 minutes.) I weirdly never noticed any difference between my active labor and transition phase. There was never a moment where I felt an intense jump in contraction pain– they just continued to grow in intensity.
Then things got REAL. My water finally broke at 10cm and that’s when things went 0-100. The calm demeanor and deep breaths that I’d been able to maintain during active labor and transition completely went out the window. I had been on my knees on the bed laying with my chest against the large triangle pillow, but what I was feeling was so intense that Nick had to get on the bed in front of me and physically hold me up while I pushed.
I won’t lie. The contraction “pain” I’d felt previously was peanuts compared to the ring of fire. This was the one and only moment of J’s birth where I felt fearful and like things could get out of my control. I definitely screamed a few lines that you’d probably expect to hear in a movie. I also somehow ended up putting Nick in a chokehold LOL. I was pretty much gripping on to him for dear life.
In total I pushed for about a half hour and I want to say the ring of fire lasted about 5-10 minutes. During pushing I thought for sure that I was tearing because that’s exactly how it felt. Thankfully that wasn’t the case. My midwife informed me after that I had a small cosmetic interior tear and that my perineum was completely intact. BIG sigh of relief. During pushing she and the nurses continually applied warm compresses and coconut oil “down there” to protect me and help my skin stretch. I remember at my hospital birth asking the OB if they could do similar and pretty much getting laughed off by the OB. I’m VERY grateful that this time I had a care team that prioritized this without me even having to ask.
Giving birth unmedicated was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my entire life, but then it was OVER! The pain and discomfort immediately went away as soon as Julian was placed on my chest. I think for that first hour after I was still in disbelief that I’d actually birthed a whole human without any pain relief or medical intervention.
I even cut his cord myself! Once it had finished pulsing (we did delayed cord clamping) I remember my midwife asking Nick if he wanted to do it, but since he was still feeling a little squeamish from the birth he was like “noooo that’s OK” LOL. She then proceeded to ask ME if I wanted to and obviously I said yes, so I literally cut it right there as he was laying on my chest. It was so surreal!
The entire experience just felt so… normal, I guess? Laying in the bed in the birthing suite during that first golden hour Julian felt similar to being at home. I just remember feeling very relaxed and at peace while the midwives and nurses gently tended to Julian and I while we soaked up cuddles and he nursed for the first time.
So Julian was officially born at 4:25am on Tuesday October 4. We ended up being able to head home within a few hours after his arrival. I think we left the birth center around noon– 7 hours after he made his debut–and since then our lives have changed in the best way! We’re still working on getting into a new routine and groove, but I know that will all come in time. One thing I can say is that so far going from 1-2 kids has been vastly easier than going from 0-1. I was a little worried we’d “forget” how to do all the newborn things, but it came back to us almost immediately. Julian is the sweetest boy– super snuggly, BIG appetite and a great sleeper 🙂 We’re obsessed!