Emmett’s birth will forever be one of my most treasured memories. I remember every emotion from this day so clearly, my heart swells each time I replay it in my mind. I had always known I wanted to have a natural labor and delivery, and Derek was so supportive of this dream of mine. We were so happy to come across The Bradley Method, a unique method that teaches a woman and her partner (who plays a very active role) to give birth naturally. While some labor methods aim to eliminate or distract from pain, Bradley views childbirth as a natural process and encourages mothers to trust their bodies, using relaxation and breathing to reduce unnecessary stress and work through any pain- which has such an important purpose. Our Bradley course (taught by the beautiful Liza of Yoga Janda) not only took away any fears I had, but made me excited to give birth. I will write a post all about what we learned and loved, but for now here is our sweet Emmett’s birth story!
Sunday, May 7th
The afternoon before Emmett was born, we were running errands. It was while we were walking around Target that I had my first early labor contractions (I shrugged them off, knowing they may be false labor, which a good friend of mine from our Bradley class had been experiencing for weeks. She ended up giving birth this very same day! She is now one of my best friends and so are our sons). They were strong enough to make me stop walking, lasted a little over 30 seconds each, and were sporadic. 12 minutes apart, then 5, then 30. I knew if this was the early stage of true labor, I likely wouldn’t be in active labor for 8-12 more hours, and if it was false, they may continue sporadically or go away altogether. We ran the rest of our errands, stopping every once in awhile when a wave would come on, and went home to make dinner.
Derek may have had an idea labor wasn’t too far in the future, as I had the sudden urge to completely re-organize my home office when we got back to our house. At one point, he walked in while I was experiencing a wave and encouraged me to rest. We made dinner, watched a movie, and went to bed (for the last time as a family of two!).
Monday, May 8th
I woke up at 2:20am having a strong contraction. I had an instinctive feeling that this was the “real deal”, but we learned in our Bradley class that the best thing you can do when you think you are in labor, is to try ignoring it. I tried to go back to sleep, but a few minutes later I had an even stronger contraction. I decided to begin timing (I used the app Full Term) and found my next waves both lasted one minute (plus a few seconds) and were just under five minutes apart. I got up, knowing I was in active labor now, but didn’t wake Derek. I wanted him to get as much rest as possible.
Between contractions, I began to finish packing our hospital bags (there are little things you need to wait until the last minute to pack: Toiletries, phone chargers, hairbrush, pillows) and tying up loose ends, like writing a check for the gardener coming that day (another Bradley tip: go about your usual tasks until you can’t any longer. Not dwelling on your labor can actually help it progress faster).
By 3:00am, my contractions were under four minutes apart. The less time between them, the stronger they became. When one would begin while I was walking around the house, I needed to lean on things like the counter, a chair, a stair railing- Around 3:30, I decided it was time to wake Derek up for support. Waking your husband up to tell him it’s almost time to meet baby is such a happy feeling!
As my labor progressed, I switched off between support practices with Derek and using my birth ball. We learned great laboring positions and techniques through our course. There were also times I simply did whatever and stood however I felt naturally best in those moments. One of my favorite things ended up being a “drunk prom date” pose- holding onto D with my arms wrapped around him, letting myself just melt into and be supported by him. It was so comforting! Derek made sure everything was ready to go whenever I was using my birth ball. He also continually made sure I was drinking water and taking in little bits of food (almond butter, berries, banana, crackers), both at home and in the hospital, to help me maintain my energy. At one point, we put clean sheets on the bed together (the things I think of while in labor, right? But it was so nice to come home with a new baby a couple days later to a fluffy and crisp, clean bed)!
From 3:30 to 5:00, my contractions were three to three and a half minutes apart. I continually wanted to stay home. I was completely in my zen zone. I probably never would have left if Derek didn’t tell me it really was time we go- when my contractions dropped mostly into the range of being two and half minutes apart but also began “stacking” on top of one another, at times giving me no breaks in between the end of one and beginning of the next.
Despite my recently acquired desire for a home birth, we left for the hospital. Being in active labor while riding in a car was intense. Up until that point, I had been moving through all my contractions- swaying, circling my hips, moving back and forth on my birth ball in lunging or figure eight motions. Being in one stationary position, sitting in the front seat, was challenging for me and definitely intensified things.
At The Hospital
We arrived at the hospital just before seven a.m. I stopped to breathe through contractions as I signed paperwork. We were given a private room fairly quickly. Derek set-up the room with the few things we had brought, including my birth ball, and we gave the nurse our birth plan (Please let me know in the comments below if you would like a copy! I am happy to share with anyone who is curious or hoping to have a natural birth. If there is enough interest, I can write a post about what we found important to include and why we chose certain birth goals). We were left on our own to labor a little while before the nurse came in to check my dilation.
This is where things get a little interesting (what would a birth story be without a little twist?).
Typically, doctors let their patients know to head to the hospital when they are having contractions five minutes apart for one to two hours. If a natural birth is your goal, however, you are encouraged (by the Bradley Method, etc.) to wait much longer. This gives you plenty of time to labor in the comfort of your own home (which I loved!) and helps avoid the push for medical interventions. Since my contractions were coming regularly, 2.5 minutes apart, before we even left the house, we were very confident I was going to be a good amount dilated. The nurse who checked me, however, (mistakenly) thought I was at zero cm. Yes- She told us that I was not dilated at all… and tried to send us home. Derek basically told her there was no way she was right (Love him!) and that we weren’t leaving. He told her that if we left, he would be delivering our baby himself at home. We stayed. She called the doctor from our practice, who told her to begin monitoring my contractions- Which were all showing up on the graph, loud and clear (“Oh, you are in labor…”).
Derek didn’t skip a beat. He knew exactly what I needed, every moment. Not only did he remember everything from our birth course, but on another level he knew how to be there for me and coach me, often without either of us saying a word. We were extremely connected, like we had one mind between us both in those hours, and it was the most beautiful experience. While we were being told I was not dilated at all, we both knew better. I knew my body; Derek knew me. We both knew all we had learned. We tuned everyone and everything out except each other.
From Zero to Ten (Centimeters) in .00 seconds
The nurse did another check, telling us that I was still “not dilated”. Eventually, we both knew that I was in transition despite what she was saying. I started telling Derek that I needed to push. She told me that I absolutely could not push yet (which is seemingly impossible when this is what your body naturally wants to do). I spent a very, very long time doing certain exercises trying to stop myself from pushing- This was the absolute most challenging part of my entire labor and birth experience. I knew how to relax myself through contractions. I knew how to cope with pain naturally- Even the intense ebbs and flows of back labor I had. But this was different- I was being told to fight against my body, which was telling me it was time to bring my son into the world. Trying to stop myself from pushing seemed like a form of torture.
I finally told Derek, “I can’t do this anymore.” (Hello, transition!) I felt like I couldn’t hold back any longer and he was about to be born. In my mind, I was either about to push him out- right then and there- or they were going to have to perform an emergency c-section. It was time. The nurse wanted to check my dilation. I rolled from my side (where I was practicing a tried-and-true relaxation exercise) onto my back yet again- she told me I was still at 0cm. She gave me a saline lock IV (I assume this was in case I needed intervention, they would have me ready). I rolled back onto my side, where I was the most comfortable, and she checked me again– Obviously doubting herself at this point. This time, she exclaimed “WOW. YOU ARE AT TEN. DON’T PUSH! I HAVE TO GET THE DOCTOR!” and left the room.
Medical staff flooded in, quickly turning the space into a delivery room. The doctor came in. I had met him once before when my doctor was out of town for one of my weekly check-up appointments in the third trimester. I was happy he was able to be there, even though he wasn’t my routine OBGYN (see “According to Plan?” below). I had shared my birth goals with him at that check-up a few weeks earlier, and he was supportive of them.
I used a pushing and breathing method we learned in our Bradley course, which is much different than the doctors and nurses at a hospital will tell you how to do things. I did not push as hard as I could for a certain count of time, over and over, to get him out as quickly as possible. I pushed when my body told me to, and rested when my body told me to. I did half-pushes when Emmett was crowning, which slowed the process slightly, but because of all this, I tore a very minimal amount and had a virtually painless and very easy postpartum recovery (we also used oil and massage during pushing). Because I did not have an epidural, I could feel everything my body was doing and I was able to direct my pushes in an effective way. This helps so much and helps prevent tearing!
Pushing was such a relief. The movies all show this as the hard part- I felt the opposite. Maybe it was because I was ready so long, but it was like a breath of fresh air! About half-way (a few minutes) through pushing, the doctor asked if he could break my water (so that they could do so neatly, instead of it possibly bursting in his face- ha!). Having my water broken likely wasn’t something I would have done to speed up labor, but because Emmett was arriving at any moment, I didn’t mind at all.
Meeting Our Beautiful Baby Boy
At 10:27am, our Emmett Rhys Tough was born. He was instantly laid in my arms, across my chest. 8 pounds, 6 ounces of pure love. The most perfect, beautiful thing I had ever seen. It felt like a reunion, not an introduction, as if he had always been with us. It was the happiest, most heartfelt moment of our entire lives.
In one word, having a natural birth was euphoric. It was such a profound experience, on every level- Emotionally, physically, mentally (I imagine that giving birth, however you choose or need to, is!). I had never felt stronger. I was so proud of myself and had such a loving respect for my body. I felt more connected to Derek than ever. The second Emmett was born, pain was instantly a distant memory, I was just reveling in that moment, feeling a whole new kind of love.
We chose to do delayed cord clamping. Delayed cord clamping allows all blood possible to transfer to the baby from the placenta. This not only increases the newborn’s blood volume by one-third, it also increases the baby’s iron levels (helping prevent anemia in the first year of life), has incredible brain development benefits (even years later), increases the baby’s number of stem cells, and more. When it was time, Derek cut the cord- A really special experience for him!
Emmett breastfed shortly after he was born. It was such an incredible and memorable moment for me (I love looking back on the photos). We had what is called “the golden hour”, one hour of peaceful skin-to-skin (the sweetest newborn snuggles you could ever imagine) and nursing before he was even weighed or measured. That hour was such a memorable time, for just the three of us.
We were moved to a private room on the postpartum floor, where all three of us stayed together until we took Emmett home. The postpartum nurses and lactation consultants were absolutely phenomenal. They were so caring and knowledgable, I was (and still am) so thankful for their loving support. We had an incredible post-birth experience, soaking in our sweet baby boy and seeing him meet all four of his grandparents, who all hopped on flights to meet him the day he was born!
According to Plan?
I am so thankful that we were able to follow our birth plan very closely and had a 100% natural, unmedicated birth. Despite being told that I was not dilated, we never wavered on not wanting medication, such as pitocin (which is used to induce or speed up labor) or an epidural.
Not everything went exactly how we planned, though, and I think it is just as important to share these things! There is no need to stress when things go differently than you imagined- You simply trust the process, trust yourselves, and pivot in a positive direction.
1. Our doula happened to be out of town for a family matter. As fate would have it, so was my doctor (who I had switched to half-way through my pregnancy, loving the fact that she delivered all her own patients instead of having an on-call doctor). Luckily, we already knew they were out of town, so there were no surprises once we got to the hospital. They were both scheduled to return home later that day and didn’t think they would be missing my delivery, as my due date wasn’t for three more days. Just in case, our doula had someone on standby, who met us at the hospital a little while after we had checked in. Truthfully, I don’t remember much of her other than that she was, well, there. She was a very sweet person, but she was simply present- Not very interactive- almost like a part of the hospital staff. She didn’t have experience being a personal doula (she volunteered previously at a hospital, but didn’t have experience with our type of birth) and didn’t do any of the things we had hired a doula for- So we ulitmately just did our own thing. Derek was my sole birth coach, we relied on what we learned in our Bradley Method course, and that ended up being absolutely perfect! It actually makes me so happy to look back on, seeing how we calmly and positively handled things together. It made things even more meaningful and made our relationship and bond even stronger!
2. One of our birth goals was to have as few cervix/dilation checks as possible. Since our nurse was under the impression that I was not dilated, she checked more often than had this not been the case. However, because my water never broke, this did not create a risk for infection.
3. Back to the nurse being under the impression that I was not dilated… That certainly was not something we were expecting to happen! We had never heard of anyone experiencing this before, and I am sure it had the potential to really throw things off when it came to our goals. I’m so grateful that we had the desire, knowledge and positivity to achieve the birth we hoped (and worked) for together. As it turned out, the reason the nurse thought I was not dilated the entire time was because she was feeling Emmett’s head. Because of this, she thought my cervix was completely closed (Nope… I suppose you just can’t stick your fingers through a baby’s head). I was likely very far dilated when we arrived at the hospital. Although I was flattered when she asked Derek, “How do you even know she’s in labor?”, had she not made her mistake (or perhaps if I had opted for a home birth), I likely would have delivered Emmett much earlier. Thankfully, I didn’t personally experience much of her doubt or what negative effects it had the potential to cause- I let myself go into “Labor Land” and chose not to listen to what she was saying. I trusted my body knew what to do and we were so well informed from studying the Bradley Method. Derek remained so calm and supportive, I felt confident and secure instead of allowing her to introduce anxiousness into our world in those moments. I look back on our birth experience with so much happiness!
I hope that our story gives many of you mamas-to-be (or who may be someday) encouragement in knowing that despite any scenario, you can always find a place of peace and strength inside of yourself. Whether you dream of having a natural birth, need a cesarian section, want to have an epidural, or a combination of anything else- You are incredible, you are strong, and all birth (no matter how or where it happens) is beautiful. Healthy mama, healthy baby is what matters most!
I loved being pregnant, I loved giving birth, and I love being a mother. Every stage is so special and I can only hope we get to do it all again! I would love to hear your thoughts and any questions you may have about our experience. Please let me know in the comments below (Let’s also connect on Instagram and don’t forget to subscribe for special announcements and future stories)!
LOVE, ANNA JOY