Our sweet River Cordell arrived bright and early Thursday, August 14th at 7:36 am. This is his birth story.
To tell you the full story, I have to begin with Monday evening. The day was like any other, with Braxton Hicks (BH) contractions occuring randomly. I decided early on in this pregnancy that I would ignore all 'practice' contractions until I knew I was definitely in labor, because I didn't want to become impatient or rush this baby. And from 20 weeks on, every time I had a 'practice' contraction (which was quite often), I did just that. I patiently told myself "These little contractions are paving the way for birth". That evening from 9 pm to 11 pm, I had regular contractions, and despite Kyle wanting me to keep track of them, I went about my normal routine. I laid in bed with Remy until he fell asleep and then climbed into my own bed. Admittedly, Tuesday morning I woke up slightly sad that I wasn't going to be meeting my baby that day, but Kyle & I were thankful he didn't arrive early in the week because of his work schedule (he doesn't get vacation time, so we jokingly said it'd be great if he came on a Thursday).
So, on Tuesday, I stuck with my normal routine. Remy & I spent the day outside, and I cleaned and did laundry when I had a chance. My dad made a special trip to Tudor Tea House in Kalamazoo after work for some Raspberry Leaf Tea (I was all out the day before and felt that I really needed it). And my mom stopped by to see us as well. Together we weeded the front flower gardens and cleaned up the hedges. My belly felt gigantic. My hips and back hurt to the point that I could barely walk at times (I suffer from major pelvic pain at the end of my pregnancies despite regular chiropractic care from the wonderful Dr Val at Rambling Road Chiropractic), and even simple tasks proved difficult at times.
Wednesday morning, I called my sister-in-law Chelsey to see if she'd be willing to take a few photos of Kyle, Remy, & I at Grandpa Jim's apple orchard. She happily obliged, and I remember feeling particularly grateful due to the sense of urgency I was feeling -- as if he could arrive any moment. After photos, we chatted with Kyle's family for a few minutes and then headed home. I downloaded the photos to my computer and edited just a couple because I knew once baby arrived, my editing time would be few and far between.
Around 8:30 pm, I started bedtime routine with Remington and by 9:30, I was snuggling with him in bed. He fell asleep quickly and I was thankful because I felt exhausted. As I was falling asleep I had a few 'practice' contractions (or so I thought) but fell asleep without trouble. Around 11:30 I woke up to yet another 'practice' contraction. Nothing major. Just like any other. I walked myself back to my own room like every other night and went to sleep beside Kyle. Suddenly around 3:30 am, I awoke lying on my back and had an extremely strong contraction. Being on my back made me feel like I was suffocating. I reached for Kyle and clutched to his arm while loudly whispering "Kyle, this is a REAL contraction". When it was over, we chatted for a few minutes about how I was feeling and he said I should try getting in the bath and start timing each rush with my phone app.
The bath felt amazing. I threw in some epsom salt and soaked for a few minutes. About 20 minutes after the first contraction, I had another. Kyle decided to text our doula and after a few texts back and forth, she ended up calling. She could hear me doing some low moaning noises and breathing through my contractions and it was decided that I should head to the hospital sooner rather than later, so she would pack her things to leave (she lived about 1.5 hours from the hospital). I could feel a rush of excitement as I exited the tub, dried off and headed back to our bedroom. My bags were neatly organized with a list on each one of them noting the 'last minute items' I would need to grab. During this time though, my contractions began picking up.... going from 15 minutes apart, to 12, to 10, to 9, 6, etc. Finally my bags were packed and my mom was on her way to watch Remy so we could leave for the hospital (Kyle called and told her "please come now - we need to leave"). I had one big contraction on our living room couch, then sprinted to the kitchen for some coconut water. Kyle quickly made me some PB&J toast, and as soon as my mom arrived we jumped in the van.
I couldn't sit normally in the van due to the contractions, so I kneeled backward on the front seat and hugged the headrest. I took a few bites of PB&J and kept switching positions, leaning forward over the dash, trying to sit sideways, hugging the headrest again. Nothing I did felt comfortable and I couldn't wait to get out of the car. Kyle and I chatted about how quickly things were moving and hoped our doula would get to the hospital before I had the baby.
When we arrived at the hospital around 5:30 am, it was pitch dark. Kyle dropped me off at the front door while he parked the van in the parking garage and walked down. It felt like an eternity, but I know it was only a few minutes. I had a couple contractions outside on the bench, and then we walked in together. It took all my strength to continue walking through the long hallway to the elevator. I simply wanted to be on my hands and knees or get in a nice warm bath. I did not feel like walking through cold hospital hallways, and kept wishing I had somehow convinced Kyle to do a homebirth. Still though, the excitement was building within me as we took the elevator up to the maternity floor.
At the top, the intake nurse took some information and it was clear (to me) that I was in full labor. I kneeled on the ground, crawled around, squatted while holding onto the desk, breathed deeply and moaned low noises while we waited for someone to take me to our room. It felt odd to be crawling around on the floor right there in the intake area, but I literally had no choice.
About ten minutes later a nurse took us back. I was given a spacious room with a bed, couch, rocker, full bath & a huge window. I had previously toured the hospital with my incredible midwife Janie and decided I liked the Borgess labor rooms better than Bronson's, even though Bronson is newer. Borgess felt more 'homey', and the nurses were by far more supportive of natural birth and my birth plan. My midwife unfortunately was not on call that night, but one of my other 'top choices' was - Megan Deibel. I hadn't met her before, but I knew from my research that the Kalamazoo natural birth community recommended her.
I spoke with Megan for a few minutes while the nurses prepared the room. Kyle started diffusing Joy in my essential oil diffuser, and we decided now would be a great time to get in the bath. The relief from the warm water was amazing. I don't remember how long it was until my doula, Jessica Stackowicz of Sacred Birth Services arrived, but it didn't feel very long. Still, I was ecstatic to see her. Her presence alone gave me a boost in confidence. She had poured so much of her incredible knowledge into me throughout my pregnancy (I asked a lot of questions!), and although this wasn't my first rodeo, I had fears from my first natural birth to deal with.
Within a few minutes, Jessica had blown up a little bath pillow for me, sprayed the room with a wonderful essential oil spray, brought me a delicious birthing drink in the cutest glass with a straw along with some organic peppermint chapstick, turned the lights down low, and was beside the tub. I cannot explain how thankful I was in that moment that she was there. (If you're reading this and debating whether you really need a doula or if you should spend the money... let me tell you: you do & you should.)
For a while I stayed in the tub and breathed through my contractions. During this birth, I was able to appreciate the calm, quiet feeling that comes between contractions. I had read about it in my Ina May book but didn't have that experience with my first birth because I had felt so fearful of the unknown. At one point, I had to sit on the side of the tub to cool down a bit and when I got back in the water, the contractions really picked up in intensity. I threw up several times and was given cool, wet washcloths for my face and neck. I remember telling Jessica that I felt like I needed to throw up but didn't want to. Thankfully she reminded me that it's part of my birth journey, and typically shows that labor is progressing. She also explained that changing positions was a great way to help labor move along, and that the first contraction after each new position would be more intense. She was so right.
Someone recommended I move to the bed since Borgess doesn't allow tub births at this time. I was hesitant, but I knew the time was coming. I was able to use the restroom (I mention this because I was so fearful during my first birth, that I literally couldn't urinate prior to the birth), and Kyle, Jessica & the nurses helped me move to a blanket on the floor. I leaned over a birthing ball and loved the way it felt. Kyle pressed hard into my low back as the pain got more intense. After a handful of contractions, my knees were sore, so they helped me up to the bed. It was so much more comfortable. Then the really tough contractions began. I don't know how many there were, but I could tell I was in transition and just wanted to get through it. I could feel myself practically begging River to join me. His head was getting extremely low and with the next contraction I naturally started pushing. It was as if my body just took over and knew it was time - I didn't even have to think about it. The midwife came back in the room at this point in time and said she just wanted to "see where the head's at" (I had never been 'checked' prior to this point, and that was one of the best decisions I made in my pregnancy. In case you're wondering, you can refuse to be checked. There was no medical reason for me to do so, and I knew to keep my head in the right place and not get ahead of myself, I needed to turn down every opportunity of being checked.) Within a few seconds I heard her frantically saying "We need help in here!" and nurses were scurrying all around me. I was still on my hands and knees over the ball so I couldn't see who was doing what, plus I went into my zone - completely focused on the task at hand. Kyle was next to me letting me squeeze his hand (he later said I squeezed so hard he thought it might fall off) and my doula took a turn pressing and massaging my low back while giving me reassuring words... words I desperately needed to hear at that moment in time. She could really read the situation, and honestly, when she visited me after the birth I had to ask her how she was always one step ahead of me -- she always knew where my head was at and gave me encouragement for what would happen next. I'm still amazed by that.
The sky was incredibly blue and the sun was shining as I began pushing my baby out. I worked with, not against, every single contraction. I trusted God and asked him for help (out loud) when I needed it. I remembered the verse I had meditated on for weeks before the birth: "I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears." Psalm 34:4. I knew my body was made to do this, and had already done it once before. I'm not certain how many times I pushed or exactly how long, but I believe it was around 5 minutes...extremely quick. His head came out, and with the next couple of pushes, his body too. I rolled onto my left side and the nurses laid him on my belly, almost exactly 4 hours after I woke Kyle up with my first real contraction. The sun made the room feel like it was glowing, and I felt such relief knowing my baby boy was in my arms. River Cordell Rowland.
The midwife allowed his cord to completely stop pulsing before they cut the cord, and then she let me get a really good look at the placenta. It's such an amazing and beautiful thing - God made our bodies to do this. River remained on my chest, and no one bothered me about wiping the vernix off or getting him into the bath. It was lovely. I just held him and gazed at him until he was ready to nurse. He did so well and I felt that instant connection to him. All the concern I had about figuring out how to spread my love between two little boys completely vanished in that moment.
Because I was born to do this. To be their mama.
Sometimes when I think back to the birth, it feels like a dream. Perfect in every way. All glory to God.
Birth Photos by Jessica Stackowicz of Sacred Birth Services
Family Photos by Chelsey Rowland