It has been almost a year since I attended my very first birth, the birth of Tallulah Fern, my best friend's darling baby girl. I finally managed to find the words to tell the story. Enjoy!
Caitlin had planned for several friends to attend her second baby's birth. Charla was to take pictures, I was to look after Atticus, and other friends Melissa and Analiesa (Ani) were also invited as support if they could make it.
On March 12-13, Charla and I had to be at the perinatal professionals conference in Salt Lake, due to our employment with WIC. We decided to drive up in a separate car and skip the carpool with our other co-workers, so we could leave in the middle in the case that Caitlin went into labor. This was actually really nice, because on the drives up and back from the conference, Charla and I had a chance to chat and get to know one another better (despite being acquaintances for years, we really hadn't sat down and talked one-on-one much at all). During the conference we kept our phones close, and checked them often (Caitlin had already dilated to five centimeters at this point, even though she wasn't in active labor yet), but nothing happened and we attended both days of the conference without incident.
Then on Wednesday, March 14th (the day after the conference ended), I woke up at about 8am, got ready, per usual, and headed out for a full day's work at my other job in Salem. Now that the conference was over, I knew that Cait was safe to go into labor anytime, so I continued keeping my cell phone handy. Sure enough, I was about ten minutes into my drive to Salem when I indeed got a text from Cait, saying she had been having some contractions that morning, and that she was going to get in the tub with Atticus to see if they stuck around. She told me she'd let me know if they picked up, and so I continued on my way to work.
About fifteen minutes after I arrived in Salem, Tim texted to let me know he and Cait were headed to the hospital. I frantically called my boss (who had not yet arrived at the office) to ask for permission to leave. I lamented the fact that I had forgotten to warn him that I may need to leave at a moments notice at some point around Cait's due date. Luckily, he didn't seem to mind (he and his wife have seven children, six of whom were born at home, so he was very understanding). We rescheduled my day of work, and in a fit of stomach butterflies and excitement, I gathered my things and ran out the door.
The drive to Timpanogos Hospital from Salem is about thirty minutes long. During the drive I had some great quiet moments to prepare my mind for the experience a little bit. This was to be the first birth I had ever attended. I had seen plenty of video of live births. I had read lots of birth stories. I even spent some time considering becoming a midwife. The birth process itself was not anything new to me. Still, I wasn't sure how I'd react, being in the situation in real life. Either way though, I hoped for the best, channeled peace and calm, and by the time I arrived at the hospital around ten that morning, I felt just about ready.
I walked in and told the nurses my name through the intercom. The automatic door swung open, and they had my name on a list. They then gave me a visitor badge, and pointed me in the direction of Cait's room. When I walked in, she was in the middle of a contraction, bouncing on the birth ball with Tim behind her, applying counter pressure to her hips. I sat down on the couch with Atticus and waited out the contraction.
All pictures taken by Charla (unless otherwise noted)
After she got in the tub, things were pretty normal for a good long while. Cait sat in the tub leaning over the edge, and the rest of us sat around the tub and chatted with her in between contractions, and waited quietly while she worked her way through contraction after contraction. I attempted to tend Atticus for awhile, but with his dad still in the room, he was having none of it. So, Tim took over, and I joined Cait, Charla, and Melissa next to the tub.
Right up to transition, Cait was smiling, laughing and joking with us between contractions. I think she was excited. Excited to be in labor, excited to give birth, excited to meet her baby girl, excited to be surrounded by some of her best friends. There were a couple of times when I was almost startled by her ability to suddenly switch from the intensity of a contraction to being completely fine. One specific time was when she was moaning through a contraction, coming down the back half of it, and all of a sudden remembered/announced that March 14th is Taylor Hanson's birthday, too. We all had a good laugh over that.
As the contractions and deep birthing moans became more intense, Charla, Melissa and I seemed to instinctively draw closer to Cait's side. Eventually all three of us perched along the edges of the tub, alternately massaging her back or shoulders, pouring water down her back, applying counter-pressure to her hips and back, stroking her hair, and speaking whatever calming words we could. The over-arching thing I remember from this birth is the amazing flow we developed. I wish I could fully describe it! My beautiful friend Rachel recently gave birth to her own beautiful baby girl, and she described having her doulas surrounding her like this:
"I was always surrounded by strong arms, affirming words. I felt cradled. Okay, doula-ing is glorious, it’s like this dance and rhythm we all fall into, orchestrated by the acute need of one body. Humming and singing. Pull back, fall together. Clench and release."
It really did feel like a dance, a rhythm, a song. Something that we fell into instinctively without really thinking about it. It was very meditative, and peaceful, while somehow managing to be also quite intense. Feverish, even. Yet nothing was on my mind, really. I was very much just present with Cait, letting my body instinctively act to fill any need that wasn't being met by the other women in the circle. There were very few words spoken between us regarding what each of us should be doing, but still we somehow all intuitively knew where the other was, and what needed to be done and who needed to do it. It was this amazing warmth, this tugging of our hearts as though all of them were tied to one another, and as the strings pulled tighter and Cait's labor became more intense, our hearts all stretched and grew in size, together.
Eventually things got more difficult, and there were shorter breaks in between contractions. Cait became quieter and more inwardly focused, and we all followed suit. Silently we continued on with the flow we had set up early on. At one point all the massaging and touch became too much for her, so we all backed off and Tim got in the tub with her, but shortly after we were all drawn to her side once again. We spoke very little. Caitlin would moan through a contraction and as she'd come down the other end I'd notice a few or all of us humming along with her moans, her birth song.
It was during this time that Analiesa joined us (having had to drive down from Salt Lake). She took a seat on the floor next to the tub, near Caitlin's head, and seemed to recognize our flow and gently find her place in it pretty seamlessly. Her words were firm and strong, inviting Cait to keep her focus, to stay on top, to keep her moans low and centered in order to help her body continue to open up. Her strength and confidence were a welcome addition to the group.
One of my favorite photos from the day (taken by Tim for instagram)
Soon, Cait began to complain of nausea, which is a tell-tale sign of transition between the first stage of labor (contractions and dilation), and the second stage (pushing the baby out). Charla passed a rag with some peppermint essential oils on it, which I wiped her forehead with, then left near her face to hopefully help soothe the upset tummy. Cait's talk quickly changed during this time from happy and peppy, to a little more hopeless. Things like, "I don't think I can do it," and "nope, it's too hard, I'm going to die." Hearing her say those things made me ache for her, but it also made me smile, because I knew that meant we were getting close. We all collectively breathed out positive, encouraging words. "You can do it, Cait. You are doing it. You're doing beautifully. You have got this under control." Positivity and encouragement was seeping from our very being.
I remember distinctly at one point during transition, Cait's head turned suddenly and her eyes, filled with desperation, fixed on mine. She let out a tiny helpless sound as she looked to me. In that moment, I felt nothing but peace and calm. I remember stroking her blazing red hair and forehead with my wet fingers, and repeating those very words over again, "you are already doing it. You are doing beautifully."
Caitlin was still in the tub when she started feeling a little more pushy. She had been given express instructions by the midwife and nurses that the baby was not allowed to be born in the tub, though she could start pushing in the tub as long as she felt like she would be able to move herself out of the water before the actual birth. We began to drain the water out as soon as we could tell she was close, but it was not soon enough. Before we could do anything, the room was filled to the brim with nurses and people, everywhere. Caitlin was frozen, focused, pushing, while still squatting in the tub. Ani, and I were doing our best to coax Cait out of the tub and over to the bed, but to no avail. Cait's labor up to this point had been very peaceful and positive for the most part. Unfortunately, the nurses chose this most intense time to bring a pretty solid heap of negativity into the room. When they saw that she might not get out of the tub before the baby was born, they chimed in with comments like "your baby will be in danger if you deliver in the tub," and "somebody call respiratory, this baby's going to be born in the water." This burning anger began building up inside of me at these ignorant nurses who would dare say something so completely false and just downright rude to a laboring mother. I was in the process of formulating something coherent to say to silence these nurses, when Cait suddenly cried, "shut up!" which thankfully gave them all pause. Just after that, she reached down and could feel the baby's head, and announced to all of us that baby girl was "right there!" From the sound of her voice, she seemed flustered and frustrated (and rightly so). I think she wasn't sure how she could possibly move herself from the tub to the bed with the baby so close.
The hustle, trying to figure out how to help Cait over to the bed
It was the midwife who finally said the magic words, referencing the fact that one of Cait's big goals with this birth was to have lots of close "skin-to-skin" time with baby. The midwife reminded her that if she wanted that, she would need to get out of the tub and avoid having the baby born in water. That did it (that and the fact that the contraction she was having ended), and she let Ani and I grab an arm on either side and walk her quickly to the hospital bed where she got on her knees, put her arms up against the tall back of the adjustable hospital bed, and pushed the baby out in just a couple pushes with all of us surrounding her. Bright red, vernixy, Tallulah Fern was born within just a couple minutes of Cait getting on the bed, sometime around 3pm. The midwife handed Tallulah through Cait's legs while Cait turned over, and then Tallulah was placed on Cait's chest.
It was the most beautiful moment. She was as red as a ripe strawberry, with little peach fuzz hair, and long, slender, toes and fingers. She was perfect. After the umbilical cord stopped pulsating, Tim cut it, and she was weighed, measured, and checked out, mostly while still in Cait's arms. Then Cait and baby were wrapped up tight, and they got all the skin-to-skin time they could want. Baby ate at the breast, and all was right with the world.
Another one of my favorites, taken later that same day
My entire body ached in the days following Tallulah's birth. I remember calling Charla while I was on lunch break at work, the day after. I was sitting in my car with the windows rolled down, enjoying the early spring breeze while we talked. I brought up how achy I felt, and she exclaimed that she felt achy, too! We laughed about it, and mentioning how it was probably from all the massaging and counter-pressure. But I had this pressing feeling that somehow, my body, our bodies, had absorbed some of the pain of the process, just by being there. Oh, how that idea struck me! It seemed so fitting. As humans we always talk of wishing we could help carry one another's struggles, whatever they might be. How beautiful to imagine that I had, in a very concrete way, done just that.
Tallulah and Cait come to see me perform in The Vagina Monologues
3 month old Tallulah, camping of course
As I was writing this post, I took a moment to look back through our blog archives to reminisce on our friendship. If you want some background, see any one of these posts!
You can read Caitlin's version of the birth story over on her blog (where you can also see super cute photos of an almost one-year-old Tallulah!) (and thank you Cait, for giving me permission to share my version of this story).
And if you want to know about our matching bracelets and the necklace Cait is wearing, click here.